'Growing urgency': United Way creates website for donations to help asylum seekers

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Asylum agreement with U.S. to blame for woman's death near border, lawyer says

Asylum agreement with U.S. to blame for woman's death near border, lawyer says

The United Way has created a special website aimed at soliciting donations to help the wave of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba from the United States — and the flood of migrants expected to come as the weather warms.

"Community agencies at the front lines of caring for newcomers have expressed the need for more support. The reality today is that with the influx of refugee claimants, these agencies are becoming overwhelmed," said Connie Walker, CEO of the United Way in Winnipeg.

The new website will make it easy for people to donate and get updates on urgent needs like shelter, food, clothing, and items for personal hygiene.

Since the start of the year, 169 asylum seekers have made their way into Manitoba, including 19 who arrived overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, RCMP said.

Typically, there are 50 to 60 refugee claimant applications in a entire year, according to Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

That's all in addition to the sponsored refugees who make their way into Manitoba. Last year alone, there were about 3,000 refugees and immigrants who came to Winnipeg — twice the number from 2015, Walker said.

Many of the newcomers avoid the official port of entry, walking through snowy fields under the cover of darkness and in sub-zero temperatures. Aid agencies say the asylum seekers are desperate and afraid, concerned about their safety in the U.S., and specifically being deported under U.S. President Donald Trump's new immigration bans.

"Refugees don't make the journey just for the sake of it," said Abdi Ahmed, a co-ordinator with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.

"Imagine leaving your home, leaving everything that you have … and making a journey to go to an uncertain place."

Asylum seekers entering Manitoba are looking "to find a place where they can find peace and a place where they can live in safety," said Ahmed, himself a refugee claimant who came from Somalia in 2003.

Sitti Ali, who arrived in Winnipeg three months ago after crossing the U.S.-Canada border, said she's been the recipient of support and is now reaching out to help other refugee claimants in need.

"I really like helping people. I [am] already volunteering at Welcome Place," said Ali. "So I really like to help people, any kind of people."

The crisis in Manitoba has made worldwide headlines and aid agencies in the province have been getting calls and emails from people wondering about how to help, said Jodene Baker, chair of the United Way's community investment committee.

The website will "give people an opportunity to be part of helping refugee claimants and the community agencies caring for them," said Baker.

"This is about mobilizing our compassion and humanity to go further," she said.

Some of the money will also help agencies to hire contract staff to handle the increased demand, which is only expected to soar when the temperatures rise.

"There is a growing urgency in Winnipeg," a news release from the United Way stated.

"The need to help now [is] greater than ever," Walker said.

Ahmed called for Manitobans to "come together to provide support, to provide protection" for people who will increase the province's culture and enrich its society. 

"We will continue to work closely with community partners in the coming weeks and months to keep everyone informed about the situation and how we're making a difference together," Baker said.