As asylum seekers make their way through deep, snow-covered fields into Manitoba, The Salvation Army is providing shelter and safety once they arrive in Winnipeg. “Most are carrying nothing more than a backpack,” says Major Rob Kerr, divisional secretary for public relations and development, Prairie Division. “They need all their energy to get through the fields.”
The Army’s Booth Centre is working in partnership with Welcome Place, which offers a range of services to assist refugee newcomers.
“Welcome Place is directing the asylum-seekers to Booth Centre for shelter and food,” says Major Kerr, noting that the shelter has a dedicated space with 30 beds and other options to take in more people, if needed.
Major Kerr also says that in the dark of night, some parents have dragged their children through snow up to their waists, some have had fingers amputated due to frostbite and others have walked up to eight hours to feel safe and avoid being deported.
“I met a couple recently—the wife is five months pregnant and knew the risks of hypothermia and frostbite,” Major Kerr shares. “But they were afraid of being deported. Their lives were in danger when they fled Somalia for Brazil. They walked from Brazil through South America to Mexico. It took them three months. From Mexico they came to the United States where they applied for refugee status. They were in the process with their appeal when it was denied and their hearing was cancelled. They won’t go back to Somalia.
“Asylum-seekers are coming to Canada to stay alive. We want these kind, gentle and grateful people to feel safe and comfortable and let them know we are here to help them as best as we can.”
The area of the Booth Centre where the asylum seekers are staying was in the process of being renovated for a future program and is currently unused. This initiative is not taking space or beds away from anybody else in the community.
Although the asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally, once they have made contact with the Canada Border Services Agency they are legally allowed to stay in Canada. The Army’s provision of shelter to asylum seekers is in full compliance with federal law.
“Once the asylum seekers arrive in Winnipeg, they are people in our community who are in need,” says Major Kerr. “We are serving them as we would any other person who comes to The Salvation Army for help.”