Updated: January 28, 2022 1:25:59 pm
The family of four Indians, including an infant, who froze to death in Canada while allegedly attempting to cross over illegally to the US, is learnt to be from a village in Kalol tehsil of Gandhinagar district in Gujarat.
They were said to be part of a group and had set out for Canada with others from their village – another seven persons have been detained by US authorities.
Officials have been careful not to reveal identities since there’s still no official word or confirmation.
In Gandhinagar, District Collector Kuldeep Arya said: “This is an unfortunate incident which we got to know only through the media and there is no official communication yet. In case there is any communication from the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), we will facilitate at our level.”
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In a criminal complaint filed in a Minnesota court, John D Stanley, Special Agent with the US Department of Homeland Security, said: “I learned that all the foreign nationals spoke Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat in western India. Most had limited or no English language speaking ability. I also know that there are significant Gujarati populations outside of India, including in Canada and the United States.”
Officials said the identification of the victims could “take about a week” as authorities in the US and Canada are investigating the alleged trafficking racket “to establish how much they paid and who facilitated their travel from India”.
Residents of the village, from where the family of four hailed, said another three-four families were believed missing. “We have sent a mail to the Ministry of External Affairs for details, and photos of the dead for confirmation. We have also established contact with our friends in Canada who have reached Manitoba, but we are told that the Canadian authorities are not allowing them inside (the hospital) for confirmation,” a resident of the village said.
In his court filing in Minnesota, Special Agent Stanley mentioned the initials of three of the seven Indians detained as VD, SP and YP.
The complaint is against 47-year-old Steve Shand for smuggling the group of Indians into the US from Canada. The two who were arrested with Shand and were in his car have been identified at SP and YP.
Stanley said two Indians were caught with Shand, while five others were also arrested from close by in Pembina, North Dakota.
The area from where they were caught, Stanley said, “is also known by Border Patrol as a high incident area for human smuggling”.
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There have been two more such incidents in the area since December when a backpack was found by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at “what was believed to be the drop-off point for the illegal border crosses” inside which was “a price tag showing a price in Rupees (Indian currency)”.
The group of five arrested, Stanley said, “had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone on the US side”.
The person identified as VD said the group had been walking for around 11-and-half hours, and possessed a backpack that did not belong to him. He was carrying it for a family of four, and the group had separated from the family during the night.
Canadian police found the bodies of the four family members, including a teenage son and an infant, “frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border”.
The investigation is ongoing in Canada regarding the death, “along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part”.
“One of the Indian nationals provided limited information to Border Patrol,” Stanley said, adding that “he reported that he paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under fraudulently obtained student visa. He did not intend to study in Canada but rather illegally to enter the United States.”
The Indian national had “expected to be picked up by an individual who would drive him to his uncle’s residence in Chicago.”
Sources said Indian consular officials from Toronto and Chicago have been sent to Manitoba and Minneapolis, respectively, to provide any assistance needed.
Indian officials are also in touch with US authorities regarding the seven detained and have asked for consular access to them. One of them, a woman, is still in hospital.
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