Updated: January 22, 2022 8:57:26 pm
After it emerged that four Indians apparently died due to the cold while trying to enter the US from Canada illegally on January 19, consulate officials from Toronto and Chicago have gone to Manitoba and Minneapolis, respectively, to provide any assistance needed, sources said. Indian officials are also trying to get consular access to seven Indians who had crossed the border but were detained.
One of them is in hospital “for cold-related injuries” and her hand might need to be partially amputated.
Giving details of the January 19 incident, official sources said on Saturday that near the US-Canada border, the authorities in the state of Minnesota came across a group of people who apparently didn’t have proper documents. “Based on information obtained from them, Canadian authorities launched a search and found four bodies in Manitoba province on the Canadian side of the border,” a source said. The four people—a man, a woman, a teenage boy and an infant—“appeared to have died due to the cold”.
“The people found without proper documents on the US side, as well as those found dead on the Canadian side appear to be Indian nationals. However, further efforts are underway to identify them and confirm their nationalities. Postmortems of the victims are likely to be carried out on January 24.” the source said.
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The Indian government has not, however, revealed the identities of the four dead people or the seven nationals who have been detained. Their bodies were found on the Canadian side just about 10 meters from the border.
According to news agencies, the US border patrol in North Dakota stopped a car just south of the Canadian border, driven by Steve Shand, a 47-year-old from Florida who was carrying two undocumented Indians, and the officers spotted a group of five other Indians who had crossed the border and were expecting to be picked up. They said they had been walking for over 11 hours.
The seven Indians and the US citizen were arrested for alleged human smuggling.
Sources said the consulate general in Toronto had immediately sent a team to Manitoba, where the four people died, adding that the consulate general as well as the high commission in Ottawa was in touch with Canadian provincial and federal authorities for ascertaining details of the tragedy.
On the US side, the sources said, the consulate general in Chicago sent a team to Minneapolis, “which has sought consular access to the detained persons”.
The consulate and the embassy in Washington D.C. are also in touch with the US Department of Justice, and the US Customs and Border Police, official sources said.
A woman among the seven arrested people had stopped breathing several times as she was transported to hospital, and will likely need partial amputation of her hand. And a man was hospitalized for frostbite, but later released. One of the men was carrying a backpack with baby supplies, and told the officers they belonged to a family which had got separated from the group overnight.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday expressed shock about the incident. “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,” he tweeted.
And India’s High Commissioner to Canada, Ajay Bisaria, tweeted that “this is a grave tragedy”. He also said an Indian team from the consulate general in Toronto was travelling to Manitoba. “We will work with Canadian authorities to investigate these disturbing events,” he tweeted on Friday.
Canada’s High Commissioner-designate to India, Cameron MacKay, tweeted that Canadians were shocked by the tragedy in Manitoba. “Authorities are responding and coordinating across borders. Human smugglers must be brought to justice,” he wrote on Friday.
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