Shocked Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar asks envoys in US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation
A family of four Indians from Gujarat — including a baby and a teenager — froze to death in -40F blizzard after walking for 11 hours through waist-high snow to illegally cross border into the US from Canada.
Canadian police found the bodies Wednesday 33 feet from the border near Emerson, Manitoba, after the arrest of a Florida man Steve Shand, 47, on charges of human smuggling in the US, according to media reports.
Searching officers found three bodies – a man, a woman and a baby – together and a teen boy a short distance away. It is believed they all died from exposure to the cold.
Read: Five people from India arrested near US-Canada border (February 28, 2017)
Shand was arrested after a US Border Patrol in North Dakota stopped a 15-passenger van just south of the Canadian border and found him driving with two allegedly undocumented Indian nationals, the reports said.
Inside the vehicle, officers found cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice and snacks with one of the adults carrying items for a baby, but there was no infant with the group, reports said citing US court documents.
Later, the authorities came across another group of five Indian nationals who said they had walked across the border for an estimated 11 hours. A search was initiated immediately and Shand was charged with smuggling seven Indian nationals into the US.
One of those people allegedly spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada with a fraudulent student visa, the reports said.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Friday he was shocked to hear about the incident and had asked the Indian ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation.
“Shocked by the report that 4 Indian nationals, including an infant, have lost their lives at the Canada-US border,” he tweeted. “Have asked our Ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation.”
In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling it a “mind blowing tragedy,” said on Friday Canada is doing all it can to stop people-smuggling across the US border.
“It was an absolutely mind-blowing story. It’s so tragic to see a family die like that, victims of human traffickers … and of people who took advantage of their desire to build a better life,” Trudeau told a news conference, according to Winnipeg Sun.
“This is why we are doing all we can to discourage people from crossing the border in an irregular or illicit manner. We know there are great risks in doing so,” he continued.
Canada, Trudeau said, was working very closely with the United States to stop smuggling and help people “taking unacceptable risks”.
Meanwhile, a criminal complaint filed in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota charged Shand with human smuggling.
Shand, a “suspected smuggler of undocumented foreign nationals, was arrested near the US/Canadian border for transporting two Indian nationals, who were illegally present in the US,” the complaint said. The two Indian nationals have been identified as ‘SP’ and ‘YP’ in the complaint.
The complaint said that five Indian nationals illegally present in the United States were also identified and arrested around the time of Shand’s arrest.
All the foreign nationals spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat in western India. Most had limited or no English language speaking ability, the complaint said. There are significant Gujarati populations outside of India, including in Canada and the US, it noted.
The family of four that was found dead was apparently separated from others while walking through blizzards and snow, according to one of the persons arrested on the US side of the border.
“It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said in Winnipeg on Thursday.
“They were wearing winter clothing, she said, but it would not have been enough to save them with the freezing conditions” she said.
“The group was on its own in the middle of a blizzard and faced not only the cold weather, but endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” MacLatchy added.
“At this early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather,” she said.
The RCMP said it was working with the US authorities on further investigation.