UN lawyer to visit Manitoba to observe influx of asylum seekers

UN lawyer to visit Manitoba to observe influx of asylum seekers

The United Nations will send a human rights lawyer to Manitoba on an observation mission in the coming weeks related to the recent influx of refugees who have trickled into the province on foot after fleeing the United States.

"We're interested in seeing what the situation is there," said Azadeh Tamjeedi, a lawyer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tamjeedi plans to meet with asylum seekers, RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and refugee advocates in Winnipeg.

"It's just going to be an observation mission," she said.

Tamjeedi said her mission will likely include a trip to the Emerson, Man., border and an investigation into how refugees are being processed by both RCMP and border agents.

As CBC News revealed in January, hundreds of asylum seekers have crossed into Manitoba near Emerson over the past 10 months.

Many have risked their lives crossing the border through snow-covered farm fields this winter, sometimes in frigid temperatures.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country agreement requires asylum seekers to make a refugee claim with the first country they arrive in. But an exemption allows those who enter the country through somewhere other than an official port of entry to make a claim for asylum.

Critics argue that exemption encourages people to take desperate measures to get into Canada.

UN has checked with Quebec 

Tamjeedi said her visit will centre on the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, which forces Canada to take in asylum seekers who arrive in the country, but she said the UN has no mounting concerns with how officials have handled the situation so far.

"We're pretty happy with the system in Canada. It's a very robust system."

Tamjeedi's colleague Jean-Nicolas Beuze has already visited Lacolle, Que., another border where asylum seekers have been walking into Canada.

"That mission went really smoothly. They were really happy with the way people were being processed," Tamjeedi said.

Minister not convinced of trend

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CTV he is not convinced the number of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba is a growing trend, despite concerns from local politicians and the Manitoba government. 

Hussen's comments came just hours after a CBC Manitoba journalist spoke to a group of seven refugee claimants who walked into Manitoba near Emerson in the wee morning hours.

The minister said the federal government is monitoring the situation and it's still too early to tell if more asylum seekers will walk into Manitoba.

Information Radio is live from Emerson on Monday morning. Join Marcy Markusa at the Emerson Hotel from 6 to 8:30 a.m.

Read full coverage of refugees crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba