CBC report: Canada grants refugee status to Muslim man who snuck across border at Houlton

The former border crossing used by refugees as they walk from the United States to enter Canada at Emerson, Manitoba. (02/25/17 photo by REUTERS/Lyle Stafford)

Since Donald Trump was elected as president of the U.S. last fall, there have been news reports about Muslims and others sneaking across the border to Canada to seek asylum out of fear that Trump’s campaign promise to get tough on immigration could result in them being detained or deported.

With many fearing persecution if they are forced to return to their home countries, undocumented immigrants and others, some with expiring visas, have risked the cold and possibly being caught by walking through snowy expanses of woods or prairie to get to Canada. Much of the focus on this northward flow of immigrants has centered on the border between Manitoba and the states of Minnesota and North Dakota — but, according to a CBC report, there has been at least one such crossing from Maine into New Brunswick.

In a report titled “Desperate Journey,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interviews Habib Zahori, an Afghan national, about his furtive trek across the border between Houlton and Woodstock, N.B., in January 2016. His visa to study international relations at University of Denver was about to expire, and he feared going back to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he faced threats over his work prior to coming to America first as an interpreter for foreign journalists and then as a freelance journalist himself.

Zahori traveled from Denver to the East Coast and decided to seek asylum in Canada, believing he stood a better chance of being allowed to stay there than in the states. Trump’s campaign rhetoric in late 2015 and early 2016 was part of his motivation, according to the report.

“The kind of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant phobia he was spewing everywhere …it was scary, to tell you the truth,” Zahori told CBC reporter Mark Gollom.

Taking only a small bag and a bicycle with him, he got a ride with a friend to Houlton, Maine, and was dropped off in a secluded spot near the border.

“After saying goodbye to his friend, Zahori got on the bike and started pedaling toward a wooded area,” Gollom wrote. “When he reached the forest, he got off the bike and began walking in the knee-high snow to the border, bicycle still in tow.”

Zahori told the CBC he was filled with terror, thinking he might die alone in the woods along the Maine-New Brunswick border.

“’My fingers had gone numb,’ Zahori recalls. ‘My nose, my cheeks, my lips, my entire face — everything had gone numb. And my thighs and knees, everything was hurting so bad. And I was tired, and I was thirsty,'” Gollom wrote.

Zahori made it across the border with the bicycle, and pedaled it along a highway toward Woodstock, N.B., before being stopped and detained by police. Two months later, he was granted refugee status and, since then, he has been told he would be granted permanent residency in Canada.

According to the report, Canadian Border Services Agency statistics indicate that the number of refugee claims made by people who have crossed the border into Canada by land, both legally and illegally, has more than doubled since 2014. There were 3,747 refugee claims that year; 4,316 in 2015; and 7,022 in 2016, the CBC reported.

To read the full CBC story, click here.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.