the Indian family of four, including an infant, who froze to death in Canada while allegedly trying to cross illegally to the United States, is believed to have originated from a village of Kalol tehsil in Gandhinagar district of Gujarat.
They were said to have been part of a group and had left for Canada with other people from their village – seven other people were arrested by American authorities.
Officials have been careful not to reveal identities as there is still no official word or confirmation.
In Gandhinagar, District Collector Kuldeep Arya said, “This is an unfortunate incident which we only learned about through the media and there is no official communication yet. In case of communication from the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), we will facilitate at our level.
In a criminal complaint filed in a Minnesota court, John D Stanley, special agent for the United States Department of Homeland Security, said: “I learned that all foreign nationals speak Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat in the western India. Most had limited or no ability in English. I also know that there are large Gujarati populations outside of India, especially in Canada and the United States.
Officials said identifying the victims could “take about a week” as US and Canadian authorities investigate the alleged trafficking “to establish how much they paid and who facilitated their journey from India.”
Residents of the village, where the family of four was from, said three or four other families were missing. “We have sent a letter to the Ministry of External Affairs for more details, and photos of the dead for confirmation. We have also made contact with our friends in Canada who have arrived in Manitoba, but we are told that the Canadian authorities do not allow them to enter (to the hospital) for confirmation,” said a village resident.
In his Minnesota court filing, Special Agent Stanley listed the initials of three of the seven Indians detained as VD, SP and YP.
The complaint is against Steve Shand, 47, for smuggling the group of Indians into the United States from Canada. The two who were arrested with Shand and who were in his car have been identified as SP and YP.
Stanley said two Indians were arrested with Shand, while five others were also arrested nearby in Pembina, North Dakota.
The area from which they were captured, Stanley said, “is also known by Border Patrol as a high risk area for human trafficking.”
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There have been two other 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 illegal border crossing drop off point” in inside which was “a price tag showing a price in rupees (Indian currency)”.
The group of five arrested, Stanley said, “had crossed the border expecting to be picked up by someone on the American side.”
The person identified as VD said the group had been walking for about 11.5 hours and had a backpack that did not belong to them. He wore it for a family of four and the group had separated from the family overnight.
Canadian police found the bodies of the four family members, including a teenage son and a baby, “frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border”.
The inquest is ongoing in Canada into the death, “as well as an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is believed to be a part”.
“One of the Indian nationals provided limited information to Border Patrol,” Stanley said, adding that “he said he paid a significant sum of money to enter Canada from India on a visa. student obtained fraudulently, he did not intend to study in Canada but rather to enter the United States illegally.
The Indian national had “expected to be picked up by an individual who would take him to his uncle’s residence in Chicago”.
Sources said Indian consular officials from Toronto and Chicago have been dispatched to Manitoba and Minneapolis, respectively, to provide any necessary assistance.
Indian officials are also in contact with US authorities about the seven detainees and have requested consular access to them. One of them, a woman, is still hospitalized.