U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown against immigrants and Muslims has heightened fear across communities in the United States, driving many risk sub-zero temperatures to cross into Canada on foot, only to continue to face a precarious plight.
That’s the case of 46-year old Mamadou, who a decade ago, attempted to seek asylum in the United States after fleeing the Ivory Coast when rebels killed his father and burned down his home. U.S. authorities denied his request, but allowed him to stay on the grounds that deportation would endanger his life.
But since Trump’s election, immigration officials have knocked on Mamadou’s door three times, which prompted him to make the decision to leave and brave the treacherous journey to Canada.
His reason? “Because I’m no longer safe in the United States, and in my country — I’m going to be killed,” he told The Guardian.
“I was so cold. I was soaked. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” the 46-year-old said to The Guardian, choking back tears. “I didn’t know where I was going — I had no map, no lamp, no light — nothing.”
More than 1,000 people like Mamadou have attempted to trek through freezing temperatures and seek asylum in Canada.
This week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that they had intercepted 1,134 people entering the country in January and February alone. This, compared to all of 2016, when police said 2,464 people were intercepted.
But while Mamadou nearly died on his journey, found collapsed and frostbitten on the side of a road by a Canadian patrol officer, his future is still precarious and uncertain.
That’s because Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents most people who have already sought asylum in the U.S. from making a refugee claim in Canada, struck a two-fold blow in Mamadou’s case.
Before his perilous journey, he had taken a taxi to the border crossing near Plattsburgh, New York, and attempted to seek asylum with Canadian immigration officials. They denied his request, pointing to the Safe Third Country Agreement.
But the agreement only applies at official border crossings; if refugees can slip into the country elsewhere along the 5,500-mile frontier, they are eligible to make the asylum claim. But in Canada, refugees are only allowed to make one asylum claim.
That’s how now, Mamadou faces deportation to the Ivory Coast.
His lawyers are pushing for him to be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds — an instance that has a success rate of 3 percent.
“We found him,” Mamadou’s lawyer, Eric Taillefer said. “But what if there’s someone we haven’t found? I really hope we’re not going to find a body in the spring.”
“I’m asking the Canadian government to give me the opportunity to stay in this country where my life can be safe,” Mamadou told The Guardian, his voice shaking. “I want to contribute to Canada — I’m somebody that is hardworking, I’m not a criminal, I’m a good citizen.”
But while Canada is seen as a safe haven brimming with good-natured, compassionate citizens, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released Monday found that nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are crossing into Canada from the United States without documentation.
In addition, according to another report released by Reuters Friday, Canada has detained more migrants from Mexico in the first three months of 2017 than they have annually in each of the past three years.
And in December, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government imposed a cap on the number of private applications to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2017, setting the limit at just 1,000.
Advocates on both sides of the border are still pressing Trudeau to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement, which the government has continued to refuse to do.
“We are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and (Immigration) Minister Hussen to immediately rescind the ‘Safe Third Country Agreement,' and that immediate steps be taken to allow special consideration of humanitarian and compassionate reasons for entry to Canada as enabled by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” states a petition by No One is Illegal’s Toronto chapter, calling on Trudeau to rescind the Agreement.
“Remaining in Trump’s America is unsafe — particularly for poor and racialized people. For many people, deportation may also be a death sentence," the petition added. "The Safe Third Country Agreement is the reason refugees put their lives at risk trying to cross the U.S.-Canada border secretly rather than going through official channels."