Refugee claimants need safe access at U.S.-Canada border: Cole

In News by MIIC

Last month in Winnipeg, Razak Iyal, 35, carefully drinks water using hands that were severely frostbitten during an hours long trek in the snow to cross the border into Canada on Christmas Eve. Iyal and Seidu Mohammed, 24, left, walked miles in waist deep snow and freezing temperatures before they were picked up on a highway. (Robert Gauthier / /Los Angeles Times/TNS)

I remember how Canadians cried for Alan Kurdi, a refugee who didn’t survive a voyage he never should have been forced to make. The image of the Syrian toddler’s lifeless body, face down on a Turkish beach, shook the entire world and shifted the focus of our 2015 federal election.

One photograph came to symbolize our collective failure to help refugees, and Canadians were especially touched when we learned the Kurdi family hoped to find safety here.

Kurdi drowned, as so many refugees have drowned, in the Mediterranean Sea. He was one of 16 passengers on a boat designed for eight people. Western nations know that people seeking safety will risk their lives to reach our shores, even if we do not invite them. But we deny our responsibility to most refugees, and ensure that their path to us remains as dangerous as possible.

Asylum seekers have been entering Canada from the United States in greater numbers lately. Many have been avoiding official border crossings — based on an agreement between Canada and the United States, we reject most people who try to apply for refugee status at regular crossings. But we generally allow people to make a refugee claim if they find another way to cross our invisible border line.

People are risking their lives to cross on foot through forests and fields in Manitoba and Quebec, some with very young children. Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed, both refugee claimants from Ghana, suffered severe frostbite while crossing into Canada near Emerson, Man., on Christmas Eve. Mohammed, 24, lost all his fingers and thumbs, and parts of his ears; Iyal, 35, had all his fingers amputated.

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