External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday instructed Indian envoys to Canada and the US, Ajay Bisaria and Taranjit Singh Sandhu, “to urgently respond to the situation” where four Indian nationals including an infant have lost their lives at the US-Canada border.
Following his public tweet, both missions have responded on the microblogging site. “This is a grave tragedy. An Indian consular team is travelling today from @IndiainToronto to Manitoba to coordinate and help. We will work with Canadian authorities to investigate these disturbing events. @HCI_Ottawa,” Bisaria tweeted.
“An unfortunate and tragic incident. We are in touch with US authorities on their ongoing investigation. A consular team from @IndiainChicago is travelling today to Minnesota to coordinate and provide any assistance required,” Sandhu tweeted.
In a statement Thursday without identifying the victims, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) stated that “on the morning of January 19, 2022, RCMP officers with the Integrated Border Enforcement Team received concerning information from their counterparts in the United States”.
“Specifically, the information outlined that officers with the US Customs and Border Protection had apprehended a group of individuals who had crossed into the US from Canada, near the town of Emerson, Manitoba. Further, it indicated that one of the adults had items meant for an infant but that no infant was with the group.”
“Upon receiving this information at 9.23 a.m., a search was immediately launched on both sides of the border.
RCMP officers were already patrolling the area and the search began at 9.24 a.m. Extensive patrols were conducted and, at approximately 1.30 p.m, the bodies of three individuals were located on the Canadian side of the border, approximately 10km east of Emerson.”
RCMP identified the group as: an adult male, an adult female, and an infant.
“Fearing there may be additional victims, officers continued their search and located the body of an additional male, believed at this time to be in his mid-teens.”
“All victims were located approximately 12 metres from the US/Canada border.”
As speculation was rife that the group was being smuggled, The Toronto Star reported that a Florida man has been charged with human-smuggling as authorities investigate the deaths of four people, including a baby, who were found some 12 metres away from the Canada-US border in Manitoba.
“The discovery of the bodies marked a tragic ending to a case of irregular immigration that officials, it was revealed Thursday, believe is part of a larger human-smuggling operation from Canada to the US – in a part of the continent more accustomed to migrants travelling the other way,” it said.
“The events began with a group of at least nine Indian nationals, all speaking Gujarati, being dropped off near Emerson, Man., on Tuesday night during a blizzard, according to court documents.”
“At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather. Work is underway to identify the victims and an autopsy has been scheduled. The search for any possible survivors or additional victims continued throughout the evening of Wednesday, January 19, and RCMP officers continue to patrol the area today. To date, no other victims have been located.”
US authorities said border patrol officials stopped a 15-passenger rental van Wednesday driven by Steve Shand with two undocumented Indian nationals inside, less than a mile south of the border in a rural area between Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota. Shand and the Indian nationals were arrested.
Officials also intercepted another group of five Indian nationals nearby who were walking in the direction of where the van was located, according to the court documents.
“They appeared to be headed to an unstaffed gas plant located in St. Vincent, Minnesota. The five Indian nationals explained that they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone. The group estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours,” the US District Attorney’s Office in Minnesota said in a statement Thursday.
The RCMP said it will be conducting an investigation and is working in close collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection and the US Department of Homeland Security.
“All of our agencies are committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation,” the statement said.
(Nikhila Natarajan tweets @byniknat)