WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A Ghanaian man who lost all his fingers to frostbite crossing into Canada from the United States to seek asylum, can remain in the country, a Canadian immigration and refugee board ruled on Tuesday.
Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed entered Canada on Christmas Eve, after walking for three hours and awaiting help for hours more in frigid temperatures.
On Tuesday, Iyal, 34, was granted refugee status in Canada by an Immigration and Refugee Board in Winnipeg. Mohammed argued his claim successfully in May.
“I‘m feeling great, so happy,” Iyal said after his hearing. “Look what happened to me, to both of us. This changed our lives totally. Here is going to be my new home.”
More than 2,700 asylum seekers have walked into Canada since January, avoiding formal border crossings where they would be turned back under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. Those who cross without authorization, however, are entitled to receive an asylum hearing.
Many say they left the United States because they feared President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.
A Ghanaian woman died of possible hypothermia in Minnesota in May trying to enter Canada, highlighting the risks migrants take.
Iyal left Ghana after multiple beatings and death threats related to a family dispute about his father’s estate. Mohammed, 25, a former professional soccer player in Ghana, said he was threatened there because of his bisexuality.
“It’s been happening in Ghana - people killing people for stupid things, and the police take no action,” Iyal said.
The men travelled, separately, to the United States, which rejected their asylum claims last year, prompting them to flee to Canada.
But they both paid a hard price. A taxi they hired in Minneapolis dropped the men in North Dakota far from the border. The pair struggled through waist-deep snow in farmers’ fields and lost their gloves along the way.
Once the men reached Manitoba on Dec. 24, their fingers were too frozen to dial for help. Disoriented, they huddled together on a highway for hours before help arrived.
Doctors amputated all of Mohammed’s fingers and thumbs. Iyal lost his fingers, but kept his thumbs.
The Winnipeg refugee agency group home that Iyal lives in tried to make life easier, replacing door knobs with latches, attaching bungee cords to dresser drawer knobs and installing a bidet toilet.
“It’s very, very hard,” Iyal said. “We spent our life with our fingers. (Losing them) changed our lives totally.”
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; editing by G Crosse