New Delhi/Toronto: The bodies of four Indians, including an infant and a teen, have been found frozen to death at the Canada-US border, in a suspected human smuggling operation. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has expressed shock at the incident and directed the Indian ambassadors in the US and Canada to “urgently respond to the situation”.
The EAM said in a tweet: “Shocked by the report that 4 Indian nationals, including an infant have lost their lives at the Canada-US border. Have asked our Ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation.”
The bodies of the four were found in Manitoba near the United States border on Wednesday.
The discovery came after seven Indian nationals were found in the U.S.
The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota has charged Steve Shand, 47, with human smuggling.
Court documents filed on Wednesday in support of Shand’s arrest allege one of the people spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada with a fraudulent student visa.
“The investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part,” John Stanley, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in court documents, the Toronto Sun reported.
According to the documents, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in North Dakota stopped a passenger van just south of the border Wednesday. Shand was driving and court documents allege he was with two undocumented Indian nationals.
Around the same time, five other people were spotted by law enforcement in the snow nearby.
The group, who were also Indian nationals, told officers they’d been walking for more than 11 hours in frigid conditions.
A woman stopped breathing several times as she was transported to hospital. Court documents said she will require partial amputation of her hand. A man was also hospitalized for frostbite but was later released.
One of the men in the group was carrying a backpack that had baby supplies in it. Court documents said he told officers it belonged to a family who had become separated from the group overnight.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a news conference in Winnipeg that the Mounties were notified and the officers immediately began to look in the Manitoba area.
After a difficult search in nearly impassible terrain, she said officers found three bodies together — a man, a woman and a baby — just 10 metres from the border near Emerson, Man. The search continued and a teen boy was found a short distance away. It is believed they died from exposure.
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” MacLatchy said.
They were wearing winter clothing, she said, but it would not have been enough to save them with the freezing conditions.
“These victims faced not only the cold weather but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” MacLatchy added.
Shand was arrested Wednesday and remains in custody. American authorities allege in the documents that Shand has likely been involved in other border crossings, including two in December.
Officials in both countries said it is more common to see crossings north from the U.S. into Canada. Border crossings into Canada on foot increased in 2016 following the election of former U.S. president Donald Trump.