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This article was published 9/1/2018 (1358 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For the third time, a refugee claimant crossing into Canada on foot at the Manitoba border near Emerson has suffered serious frostbite.
On Thursday night, after paying US$700 to a driver to bring him from Minneapolis, 36-year-old Kangni Kouevi said he was left in the bitter cold on the side of the road and pointed in the direction of Canada.
toThe man from the African country of Togo was wearing good boots, which saved his feet; however, he suffered frostbite on his hands during his walk across the border.
At the time, it was -31 C in Emerson with the wind chill.
On Monday morning, his bandaged, frostbitten fingers were too blistered and oozing for Canada Border Services Agency officers to fingerprint him.
"I’m fine," Kouevi said in English, before asking an interpreter in French to tighten the belt that had become loose on his jeans.
His interpreter, University of Manitoba law student Darryl Strain, who volunteers at Winnipeg refugee assistance organization Welcome Place helping refugee claimants fill out their paperwork, obliged.
With Strain interpreting, Kouevi said there’s feeling returning to his fingers and he’s in great pain.
He said he fled Lomé, the capital of Togo, because he faced death threats after converting to Christianity and couldn’t count on authorities to protect him.
His father is a well-known faith healer in the west African country of 6.8 million people, where more than half practice Indigenous animist religions.
Witch doctors and soothsayers still have a significant role, the African Union says in its Togo fact sheet: "half-doctor, half-magician, these fetish priests have... individualized amulets that provide protection against evil spells or that increase the strength of the person on whom they are bestowed."
As his father’s only child, Kouevi said he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps.
"He made statuettes that contained (things like) sheep’s blood, feathers and alcohol," he said through the interpreter. "He would ask for answers to problems through the statuettes and God would answer through the statuettes."
Prominent people — including police and government ministers — "would come to buy the statuettes for spiritual protection," said Kouevi, who worked in Togo at a butcher’s shop and as a window installer.
As a Christian, he couldn’t inherit the role that is passed down from generation to generation, and that’s when his trouble began, he said.
"The whole community was upset and my father would threaten me with death," he said, adding he couldn’t turn to the police or any government official for protection.
"Togo is a dictatorship. There’s no real protection."
Friends in the United States chipped in to help Kouevi flee Togo. He travelled to Brazil, though Ecuador and Central America to Mexico.
"I wanted to enter the States legally and properly and presented myself at the border to claim asylum," Kouevi said.
He did, and was locked up in an Arizona immigration jail for 11 months. With no legal help, his case was rejected by an immigration judge. He was released and told to wait for his removal to Togo.
"I was really worried about being deported," Kouevi said. So he went to Minneapolis and paid for a ride to Canada.
He was dropped off at 7 p.m. Thursday, farther from the border at Emerson than he expected.
Kouevi said he walked for three hours. He found an abandoned shed and took shelter. His hands were so frozen he could barely press 911 on his cellphone. The RCMP took him to the Canada Border Services Agency at Emerson and officials sent him to hospital in Morris. He was treated, then taken back to the CBSA.
A Welcome Place worker later picked him up and took him to Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre for further treatment.
A year ago, two refugee claimants from Ghana — Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal — suffered severe frostbite crossing from the U.S. on foot. Both men lost their fingers.
Hospitality House Refugee Ministry settlement director Karin Gordon is worried about Kouevi losing his as well.
"We don’t know how much damage there is, or if it will heal," she said Monday after taking Kouevi to the CBSA office in Winnipeg.
"Right now, the big concern is infection," said Gordon, who retired from the HSC before running settlement services for the charity.
One of the men staying at the residence helped Kouevi shower and Gordon washed his clothes and spoon-fed him breakfast and brushed his teeth. She hopes that once Kouevi’s paperwork is complete, he’ll be eligible to get more care.
"He’s very vulnerable right now."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.