Officials in Canada say they have the identity of four Indian citizens whose frozen bodies found last week in Manitoba near the border between Canada and the United States.
The High Commissioner of India in Ottawa on Thursday released a statement saying that the four who died were Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, a 39-year-old man, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, a 37-year-old woman, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, ‘ an 11-year-old girl, and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, a three-year-old boy.
The family’s immediate family members were briefed, the High Commissioner said in a statement, stressing the need “to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur”.
Investigators say the family of four tried to cross the border on foot on January 19 during severe winter weather and died from exposure.
Officials said they were separated from the group of 18 people and likely trapped in a blizzard, which led to a tragedy that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as “surprising”.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said they believe the family arrived in Canada on January 12, first reached Toronto, and then traveled to Emerson, Manitoba, around January 18.
No vehicle was abandoned near the border, indicating that someone dropped them off and left, said Rob Hill, a criminal operations officer.
A special team, led by a senior consular officer of the Consulate General of India, is in Manitoba to assist with Canadian-side investigations and to provide services to the victims.
The RCMP in Manitoba said they found the four bodies near Emerson after U.S. border patrol agents informed them they had picked up a group of Indian citizens on the U.S. side.
One of the individuals, Steve Shand from Deltona, Florida, was found with a backpack full of items for a baby. He told investigators he was carrying the backpack for a group separated from them.
Investigators said they believed the deaths were related to a human trafficking scheme.
Shand is facing charges of transportation or attempting to “transport illegal aliens”. He was released on parole on Monday.
Meanwhile, six people run a travel and tourism company in the western state of Gujarat arrested in connection with the deathssaid police officer AK Jhala in the state capital, Gandhinagar.
“We are now trying to catch the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” he added.
Ashish Bhatia, director general of police in Gujarat, said investigators were trying to determine if there was a travel agent in India who was helping the group.
“The link between human trafficking is deep, and it often involves local politicians as well,” said police official Jhala, adding that people are even selling their land and homes to finance their migration to the US or Canada.
Canada is a sought-after destination by Indians facing high unemployment at home.
Transitions to the U.S. from Canada, however, are relatively rare: the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)’s arrests of migrants attempting to cross between ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border ranged from 6,806 in 2009 to 916 dropped in 2021.
CBP arrested 339 Indians who tried to cross the northern border to the US in 2019, 129 in 2020 and 41 last year.
In contrast, the RCMP arrested 16,503 asylum seekers who crossed north between border crossings in 2019.
The seven Indian migrants arrested by U.S. authorities last week could be eligible for visas if they cooperate in Shand’s prosecution, said Veena Iyer, executive director of the Minnesota Immigration Law Center.