New York, January 21
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday expressed shock after a family of four Indian nationals, including an infant, froze to death along the US-Canada border in what authorities believe was a failed crossing attempt during a freezing blizzard, and instructed the Indian ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation.
The Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Thursday said that the bodies of four people — two adults, a teen and an infant — were found on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border near Emerson on Wednesday.
“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,” Jaishankar tweeted.
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.— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) January 21, 2022
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 https://t.co/qGM2ZTlPsx— Ajay Bisaria (@Ajaybis) January 21, 2022
US border patrol agents soon came across five more Indians traveling on foot, one of whom was carrying a backpack belonging to a family of four who had become separated from the group as they all tried to cross the border.
They alerted Canadian police who found the victims - a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a baby - about 40 feet (12 meters) from the frontier with Minnesota. First indications are that they died from exposure to the cold.
"These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a televised news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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 https://t.co/syyA59EoB2— Taranjit Singh Sandhu (@SandhuTaranjitS) January 21, 2022
Jaishankar spoke to India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu and India's High Commissioner in Canada Ajay Bisaria.
Ambassador Sandhu said it was 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," he tweeted.
India's High Commissioner in Canada Bisaria said it was a grave tragedy. An Indian consular team is travelling today from @IndiainToronto to Manitoba to coordinate and help, he tweeted.
"We will work with Canadian authorities to investigate these disturbing events," he wrote.
According to court documents, US Border Patrol (USBP) officials in North Dakota stopped a 15-passenger van just south of the Canadian border on Wednesday.
The US Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota issued a release late Thursday afternoon and said the driver was identified as 47-year-old Steve Shand of Florida, who had been arrested and charged with human smuggling in connection with the incident.
Law enforcement officials have also determined that there were two undocumented Indian nationals, the Department of Justice said.
The court documents said that law enforcement officials discovered cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice, and snacks located in the extreme rear of the passenger van.
They also discovered receipts dated January 18, 2022, for the drinks and snacks, and rental agreement receipts in Shand's name for the van, with the return date listed for January 20, 2022.
As they were taking the trio back to the border patrol station in North Dakota, officers came across another group of five Indian nationals walking.
They told them that they had walked across the border and expected to be picked up by someone.
The group said they estimated they had been walking for more than 11 hours, and they appeared to be headed to an unstaffed gas plant located in St. Vincent, Minnesota.
One of the group members was carrying a backpack that did not belong to him.
He told authorities that he was carrying the backpack for a family of four Indian nationals that had earlier walked with his group but got separated at night.
The backpack contained children's clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children's medication.
According to court documents, on January 19, the USBP received a report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that four bodies were found frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border.
The dead bodies were tentatively identified as the family of four that got separated.
Two of the surviving Indian nationals sustained serious injuries and were transported to a hospital.
Shand is charged with one count of knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that a foreign national had come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, having transported, and moved or having attempted to transport such nationals.
He made his first appearance today before the US District Court Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer.
Shand was ordered to remain in custody pending a preliminary inquiry and detention hearing, currently scheduled for January 24.
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