Canadian police warn asylum seekers of dangers amid storm

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police warned asylum seekers on Wednesday against trying to enter Canada illegally from the United States during a bitterly cold storm gripping Western Canada, saying the risks of crossing the isolated border are too high in the harsh weather.

Emergency responders and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are struggling to respond to a flow of asylum seekers, mainly from Africa but also the Middle East, crossing the undefended border near Emerson, Manitoba, amid a crackdown in illegal immigrants under U.S. President Donald Trump.

“With the severe weather we have been having, those who are illegally crossing the border are taking huge risks walking for long periods of time in open areas with high winds, deep snow and cold temperatures. Their well-being is jeopardized,” said Sgt. Cory Meyers, head of the Manitoba RCMP Integrated Border Enforcement Team.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said 19 asylum-seekers had been rescued from the frigid storm in the last 24 hours after they had crossed into Canada during whiteout conditions that have paralyzed parts of a province that is used to harsh winters.

Hundreds of people have braved wintry conditions to cross into Canada, where they face arrest. The asylum seekers and agencies who support them cite Trump’s crackdown on immigration as a reason for fleeing.

The RCMP declined to confirm the number of asylum seekers arrested this week, saying the data is updated only on Mondays.

A 2004 agreement between Canada and the United States means asylum seekers must submit applications in the United States if they arrive there first. But if they find a way into Canada, they can apply for refugee status there.

It is an avenue that has spurred north illegal immigrants in the United States, especially Somalis settled in Minnesota, which shares a land border with Manitoba. After pricey taxi rides to North Dakota, many walk for hours in darkness and freezing temperatures dimly lit Emerson, in the shadow of the bright glare of the international border crossing.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Diane Craft