“It can kill you,” the 36-year-old from West Africa, hands wrapped in thick bandages, said Wednesday of the harsh winter conditions he experienced crossing the U.S.-Canada border on foot in search of refuge last week.
This comes as Canada’s federal government is conducting a campaign south of the border aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from undertaking irregular crossings, and amid concerns about a potential new wave of Salvadoran asylum seekers coming from the U.S.
Kouevi said he left Togo, his home country, late in 2014 after his family disowned him for converting to Christianity. He says his father was a faith healer who threatened to have him killed for rejecting those traditions.
That set off a journey that wound through South America and into the U.S. It culminated on Friday in a $700 car ride from someone Kouevi says he didn’t know, who drove him from Minnesota to the northern edge of North Dakota.
His hands froze and hardened after wandering in the cold for hours that night, when temperatures near the border dropped to –23 C but felt more like –33 with wind chill. His gloves, hat and jacket weren’t warm enough.
Kouevi ducked into a shed in Emerson, the small Manitoba border town that has become an asylum-seeker hotspot, to escape the wind before he called RCMP for help on his cellphone.
“I tried to hide. The wind was blowing on my face. I could not handle the cold,” he said in French, which a Radio-Canada reporter translated into English.
“I tried to stop cars, but nobody would help me. I went to a house, but nobody was there.”