470 refugees were intercepted crossing the U.S. border into Emerson, Manitoba, last year—more than the three previous years combined.


Many experienced border crossers—having started from South America—take various routes to avoid detection through Emerson, a town of 600 people. Often through scrub brush, mud, snow and water, willing to tolerate the risk for one last chance at freedom that seems increasingly unlikely in Trump’s America. 


After fleeing from beatings and risk of death back home, and long journeys often of detention and other perilous pathways, the entry to Canada is just their last mile of hell.


For Maclean's Magazine.

Emerson, Manitoba, sign seen from the northern edge of the U.S. border. RCMP ntercepted more refugees than in the three previous years combined. They’re intercepted rather than “caught” because they want the police to br

Emerson, Manitoba, sign seen from the northern edge of the U.S. border. The RCMP intercepted more refugees than in the three previous years combined. They’re intercepted rather than “caught” because they want the police to bring them to the Canada Customs office to make their refugee claim. 

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Ghanaian asylum seeker Razak Iyal, who crossed the border on Christmas Eve, sits in his private Winnipeg hospital room.

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“I’m feeling like the fingers are still there,” says Razak Iyal, who lost all but one thumb and a half-thumb to frostbite crossing the border into Emerson, Manitoba. “Sometimes when I’m sleeping, in the middle of the night, I feel the pain.”

“I’m feeling like the fingers are still there,” says Razak Iyal, who lost all but one thumb and a half-thumb to frostbite crossing the border into Emerson, Manitoba. “Sometimes when I’m sleeping, in the middle of the night, I feel the pain.”

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73-year-old May Boehlig says she regularly drove refugee claimants from Emerson to refugee centres in Winnipeg, an offshoot of her volunteer work shuttling cancer patients to area hospitals.
73-year-old May Boehlig says she regularly drove refugee claimants from Emerson to refugee centres in Winnipeg, an offshoot of her volunteer work shuttling cancer patients to area hospitals.
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Some will walk through the Red River valley—or the river itself, when it’s low. Locals are used to seeing muddy, tired men and women with pant legs caked in mud and clay; sometimes, they’ll sleep in the wooden vestibule of the town’s Chinese restaurant.
Some will walk through the Red River valley—or the river itself, when it’s low. Locals are used to seeing muddy, tired men and women with pant legs caked in mud and clay; sometimes, they’ll sleep in the wooden vestibule of the town’s Chinese restaurant.
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Seidu Mohammed, who lost his fingers to frostbite, lies in his Winnipeg hospital bed a week after the amputation, the ends of his bandaged hands are left open to reveal the skin graft stapled over them to cover the wound.

Seidu Mohammed, who lost his fingers to frostbite, lies in his Winnipeg hospital bed a week after the amputation, the ends of his bandaged hands are left open to reveal the skin graft stapled over them to cover the wound. After recalling the extreme burning sensation of that night, the fear he might have died, he can’t stop staring at them in disbelief. “Look at my hands. Look, look,” Mohammed says, cheeks dripping with tears he cannot wipe away.

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Evidence of frostbite on the feet of Seidu Mohammed.

Evidence of frostbite on the feet of Seidu Mohammed. Injuries like Mohammed’s frostbite have also made advocates bring up the dangers. “If you changed it, less refugee claimants would be putting their lives at risk, because they’d be able to come to the port of entry instead of the field,” says Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer who’s handled several cases.

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Looking south from farmers’ fields in Emerson, Manitoba, west of the border, known to be the most popular route for refugees on foot.

Looking south from farmers’ fields in Emerson, Manitoba, west of the border, known to be the most popular route for refugees on foot.

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