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4 Indians, including infant, freeze to death on Canada-US border; Indian consular teams dispatched
 
New Delhi/Ottawa/Washington, The bodies of four Indians, including an infant and a teen, have been found frozen to death at the Canada-US border, in a tragic turn to a suspected border crossing attempt.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has expressed shock at the deaths and directed the Indian ambassadors in the US and Canada to “urgently respond to the situation”.

The EAM said in a tweet:

“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.”

The bodies were found Wednesday in the province of Manitoba, about 40 feet from the US border near the community of Emerson.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they believed the four died from exposure while trying to cross into the US.

"It is an absolute and heartbreaking tragedy," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said. The temperatures in the region were as cold as 29 degrees below zero.

The Indian High Commissioner in Canada Ajay Bisaria, terming it a grave tragedy, said an Indian consular team is travelling from Toronto to Manitoba to coordinate and help. He also said that the Indian High Commission will work with the Canadian authorities to probe these “disturbing events”.

“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.”

Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, terming it an unfortunate and tragic incident, said they are in touch with US authorities in their ongoing probe. He said an Indian consular team from Chicago has been sent to Minnesota to provide assistance.

“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.”

A Florida man Steve Shand, 47, has been charged with human smuggling after the bodies of the four Indians were found in Canada near the US border in what authorities believe was a failed crossing attempt during a freezing blizzard.

The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota said Shand appeared in court on Thursday.

The events began with a group of at least nine Indian nationals, all speaking Gujarati, being dropped off near Emerson, Manitoba, on Tuesday night during a blizzard, according to court documents.

US authorities said border patrol officials stopped a 15-passenger rental van on 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 U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Minnesota said in a statement Thursday.

The group told officers they’d been walking for more than 11 hours in frigid conditions.

A woman in the group stopped breathing several times as she was transported to hospital. Court documents said she will require partial amputation of her hand. A man was also hospitalized for frostbite but was later released.

One of the men in the group was carrying a backpack that had baby supplies in it. He told officers it belonged to a family who had become separated from the group overnight.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said the Mounties were notified and the officers immediately began to search in the Manitoba area.

After a difficult search in nearly impassible terrain, she said officers found three bodies together — a man, a woman and a baby — just 10 metres from the border near Emerson, Manitoba. The search continued and a teen boy was found a short distance away. It is believed they died from exposure.

They were wearing winter clothing, she said, but it would not have been enough to save them with the freezing conditions.

“These victims faced not only the cold weather but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” MacLatchy added.

Shand was arrested Wednesday and remains in custody. American authorities allege in that documents that Shand has likely been involved in other border crossings, including two in December.

Court documents filed on Wednesday in support of Shand’s arrest allege one of the people spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada with a fraudulent student visa.

“The investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part,” John Stanley, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in court documents, the Toronto Sun reported.

MacLatchy said others are often involved in arranging to bring people across the border, which is criminal and extremely dangerous. In the past, it has been more common to see crossings north from the U.S. into Canada, she added.

Officials in both countries said it is more common to see crossings north from the U.S. into Canada. Border crossings into Canada on foot increased in 2016 following the election of former U.S. president Donald Trump.


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