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A 57-year-old woman believed to be from Ghana was found dead near the U.S.-Manitoba border last week after officials say she likely attempted to cross into Canada.
The Kittson County Sheriff’s Department says Mavis Korkor Larnyoh Otuteye was last seen in the northwestern Minnesota region on May 22.
Otuteye was reported missing to police three days later, and her body was found near Noyes, Minnesota -- the closest American community to Emerson, Man. -- last Friday.
“It is believed that Mavis was attempting to enter Canada at the time of her death,” the sheriff’s department wrote in a statement.
Officials say the woman’s cause of death is “possible hypothermia,” but official autopsy results are still pending. Temperatures in the region dropped as low as 5 degrees Celsius last week.
There has been a spike in asylum seekers since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, with the most recent RCMP figures showing 859 people were stopped between official border points in April.
Emerson has seen an influx in illegal border crossings this year, and many of those asylum seekers come from African countries. In April, 157 people illegally crossed the Canadian border, according to numbers obtained by CTV News earlier in May.
Many people make the journey in an effort to access a legal loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, a deal between the U.S. and Canada that stipulates that refugees must claim asylum in the first country they enter. If they were to cross at official Canadian border crossings, they would be turned away.
By illegally crossing, asylum seekers hope to access rules that entitle them to a formal hearing in Canada if they are considered refugees.
The border crossings have become so common that the Manitoba government transformed a former seniors’ home in Gretna, Man. into a reception centre for refugee claimants. Quebec has also seen a surge in the crossings. In March, 664 people were intercepted by RCMP while trying to cross into Quebec. In Manitoba, 170 people were picked up in March, and B.C. reported 71 interceptions.
The crossings have sparked political backlash. In early May, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel and local MP Ted Falk visited Emerson and held a press conference criticizing the federal Liberals of not taking the issue of safety seriously.
Later in the May, a 24-year-old Ghanaian man who lost his fingers to frostbite and nearly froze to death making the crossing was granted refugee status in Canada. The Immigration and Refugee board made the allowance for Seidu Mohammed because, as a bisexual man, he would face persecution in his home country. In Ghana, consensual same-sex relationships are outlawed and can lead to prison time.
Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale has said that the illegal crossings aren’t a “free ticket” into Canada and that asylum seekers face due process, including health checks and security clearance, after they arrive.
The investigation into Otuteye’s was carried out by the Kittson County Sheriff’s Department with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol. The case is still under investigation.
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