‘All we have to say is, thank God we are alive’

GHANA­IAN REFUGEE RE­COUNTS HAR­ROW­ING TREK FROM U. S. TO CANADA BOR­DER

National Post (Latest Edition) - - NEWS - Joe O’Con­nor

Seidu Mo­hammed and Razak Iyal couldn’t go back to Ghana, out of fear of per­se­cu­tion, and they couldn’t stay in the United States with­out fac­ing de­por­ta­tion. So on Christ­mas Eve 2016, they headed north from Min­neapo­lis to the Man­i­toba bor­der and Canada beyond. It was a bru­tally cold De­cem­ber night. The men walked for hours. A trucker dis­cov­ered them be­side High­way 75, near Emer­son, Man., half-frozen, ex­pect­ing to die.

Seidu Mo­hammed spoke with Joe O’Con­nor by phone from Win­nipeg about a jour­ney that ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed two lives.

“I met Razak in Min­neapo­lis at the Grey­hound bus sta­tion. We didn’t know each other, but he was the only other black guy in the sta­tion, and so I went to him and I asked where he was from. He said Ghana, and I told him I was from Ghana, too, and we started speak­ing our own lan­guage. He said he was go­ing to Canada. I was go­ing there, too. It was a co­in­ci­dence, and we took our plan to­gether — and we made our jour­ney.

“We saw a taxi out­side, and told the driver we were go­ing to the bor­der. He told us we had to pay $ 200 each. He dropped us near Grand Forks, and said if we walked for 30 min­utes we would be at the bor­der. But it wasn’t 30 min­utes. I had a win­ter jacket, a base­ball cap, some win­ter boots — but the win­ter boots weren’t good for Canada. I was wear­ing gloves. I never knew it was colder in Canada than the United States, be­cause in the United States, in Ohio, where I had lived, that was what I wore — a base­ball cap and a jacket. Razak was wear­ing the same thing, a jacket — a hoodie.

“Even though I had passed through jun­gle, I had never trav­elled in a win­ter like this. There were no houses, only trees and snow. We started feel­ing the cold more as we got closer to the bor­der. I’d never seen that kind of cold be­fore, windy and cold. It blew my base­ball cap away, and took my gloves from my hands.

“We saw a big farm close to the bor­der, piled in snow, beyond our waist. Ev­ery step took time — be­cause you can’t lift your leg. My eyes start­ing freez­ing, I couldn’t see. Razak had to show me the way — I was fol­low­ing his steps, step by step. Ev­ery time we saw a car we would hide in the snow — there were U.S. pa­trollers around — and all that time my eyes were frozen.

“Razak got to High­way 75. We re­al­ized we were in Canada. It had taken us three hours to cross that farm. My arms, they were hard to move. We couldn’t feel our hands. We couldn’t feel our feet. I couldn’t move my fin­gers. I couldn’t feel any­thing. We had no wa­ter. We had no food. We stood there on the high­way. We saw big trucks. We waved at them to stop — but no­body would stop. It was the mid­dle of the night.

“Razak fi­nally said, ‘We should give up.’ And I said, ‘ Yes, we should give up, and any­thing that has hap­pened here — it has hap­pened for a rea­son.’ We had tried our best to sur­vive, but this was how it was go­ing to end. We cried, and we prayed, and we were about to sit down in that snow, be­cause we knew we were go­ing to die in that cold.

“But we saw this big truck, and we were wav­ing, and he stopped. It was 4 or 5 a. m. We told him we needed help. His name was Franco, a Pol­ish guy, from Poland, and he can’t speak English that well, but he is a Cana­dian. He put us in his cab. We felt like he had been sent to us from God. So many trucks had passed — we were go­ing to die — but he stopped.

“The am­bu­lance and po­lice came. At the hospi­tal, they said they had never seen such frost- bite be­fore. The pain I was in, I don’t know how to de­scribe it. All I felt was pain, pain from my fin­gers — and pain in my hands. The doc­tors and nurses came to my room. They told me I was go­ing to lose my fin­gers. My fin­gers were black. All the tis­sue was dead. There was noth­ing they could do.

“I started cry­ing. I had come to Canada to work. I had come to make a new life, and I was say­ing, ‘ How can I work if I am go­ing to lose my fin­gers?’ But all the doc­tors said I would be OK. They took me to the surgery room on Jan. 20, and when I woke up my fin­gers were gone. (Doc­tors were able to save Razak Iyal’s right thumb).

“Right now, I am go­ing for therapy — and it is what it is — and our lives have changed to­tally. But, all we have to say is, thank God we are alive.

“We are try­ing to find a way to con­trib­ute to this coun­try, to work hard — and pay our taxes — and fol­low the rules and be a part of this coun­try. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing well, but it will take time. I don’t re­gret com­ing to Canada, be­cause what if I had made it — and I didn’t lose my fin­gers? So I don’t re­gret it, be­cause I know what I would have faced if I had gone back to my coun­try, and even through these dif­fi­cul­ties there are a lot of good peo­ple in Canada, peo­ple who are en­cour­ag­ing us, peo­ple who are mak­ing sure we are OK.”

KEVIN KING / POST­MEDIA NEWS

Razak Iyal, left, and Seidu Mo­hammed in the back­yard of Iyal’s apart­ment in Win­nipeg on Wed­nes­day. The two men from Ghana lost nine fin­gers be­tween them af­ter walk­ing across the United States/Canada bor­der last Christ­mas Eve.

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