Winnipeg Ghanaian community celebrates African country's Independence Day

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Winnipeg Ghanaian community celebrates African country's Independence Day

As Ghanaians in Winnipeg raise their flag to celebrate the West African country's 60 years of independence and its thriving economy, they are acutely aware of problems that persist.

"Ghana is a great country. Our culture is so rich and we are developing so fast, but there are challenges," said Maggie Yeboah, president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba.

The community raised their flag at city hall on Monday morning and is hosting events this week to mark the anniversary.

One of those events is a fundraising banquet for two Ghanaian men, Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal, who suffered severe frostbite while walking seven hours through snow-covered fields to seek asylum in Canada.

Mohammed and Iyal both fled Ghana separately for different reasons.

Iyal, who said Ghanaian police are corrupt, said he faced jail, torture or even death at the hands of a rich and powerful member of Parliament representing his region.

He told CBC News he'll tell his whole story at his refugee board hearing later this month.

Mohammed left because of his sexual orientation. Gay sex is illegal in Ghana.

In its 2016-17 report, Amnesty International found lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people face discrimination, violence and police harassment in Ghana. ​

Both men were denied asylum in the United States. Fearing deportation to Ghana in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order imposing a 120-day ban on travel from seven Muslim majority countries (which did not include Ghana), they decided to flee to Canada.

Mohammed lost all 10 fingers on his hands while Iyal lost all but one thumb.

But they are alive and thankful to be in Canada, Yeboah said.

"Emotionally, it's been very difficult for them, but when they think of the fact they are in Winnipeg, Canada, and Canadians have been so welcoming, this is so great," she said.

"They very much appreciate Canadians, especially Winnipeggers — the encouragement and the help and assistance they are receiving."

The local Ghanaian community of about 1,000 people is doing what it can to support them, Yeboah said. A GoFundMe campaign has so far raised $4,000 to support the men until they get better and find work.

Yeboah, who has lived in Canada for 35 years, said "life here has been great" and she believes it will be for Mohammed and Iyal. The Ghanaian community is a proud one and will help the men however it can, she said.

Information about the Ghanaian independence celebrations, which include a free symposium with a short film about Ghana on Wednesday (7 p.m. at St. Boniface University), can be found on the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba's website.