Asylum-seeker loses fingers to frostbite

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An asylum-seeker who suffered frostbite on both his hands while crossing the U.S. border into Canada in early January has lost parts of three fingers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/02/2018 (1634 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An asylum-seeker who suffered frostbite on both his hands while crossing the U.S. border into Canada in early January has lost parts of three fingers.

Kangni Kouevi, who is originally from Togo, walked for more than three hours in the bitter cold (-31 C with the wind chill) on Jan. 5 to cross into Canada near the Manitoba border community of Emerson.

After he called 911 on his cellphone, the RCMP picked him up and took him to the Canada Border Services Agency at Emerson. Officials there sent him on to the hospital in Morris. Days later, his hands were still so badly injured, blistered and oozing CBSA officials couldn’t take his fingerprints.

Kangni Kouevi lost part of three fingers on one hand. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

He is on the mend while he awaits his Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, said the director of settlement services for Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, which has provided a home for the 36-year-old francophone since he got to Canada.

“His right hand healed,” said Karin Gordon.

On his left hand, Kouevi has had to have parts of three of his fingers amputated, said Gordon, who went with him to visit his plastic surgeon Monday in Winnipeg.

“He’s healing very well,” said Gordon, who helped Kouevi through the registration process so he could get interim federal health benefits.

He is the third person in a year to be badly injured by the freezing cold while walking through U.S. farm fields into Canada near Emerson. Two Ghanaian men lost their fingers to frostbite in January 2017.

In May 2017, Mavis Otuteye, a 57-year-old Ghanaian woman, died of hypothermia less than a kilometre south of the Canadian border in Minnesota while attempting to cross the border.

Kouevi doesn’t yet know if he will be granted refugee protection in Canada. His board hearing is scheduled for June, said Gordon.

Kouevi fled Lomé, the capital of Togo, because he faced death threats after converting to Christianity and couldn’t count on authorities to protect him, he said through an interpreter in a previous interview.

Friends in the U.S. chipped in to help him flee Togo, Kouevi said. He asked for asylum in America and was put in an immigration prison for 11 months before his claim was rejected. He was released and told to await his removal to Togo. Instead, he headed north, hoping Canada would grant him protection.

His June hearing in Winnipeg will likely be postponed, however, thanks to an influx of such claims in Canada in the last year, said Gordon.

For now, Kouevi is learning to speak English and waiting to get a work permit and a Manitoba Health card so he can sign up with the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities to get specialized training that will help him find a job, Gordon said.

“He’s such a great guy,” said the 72-year-old, who became the refugee ministry’s settlement director after retiring from the Health Sciences Centre.

Kouevi lives at the charity’s residence with other African newcomers who have taken him under their wing, as well.

“I am not the only one providing care for him,” said Gordon.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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