S Jaishankar dials envoys in US & Canada after 4 Indian nationals freeze to death along US-Canada border

In a heartbreaking tragedy, a family of four, including a baby, all believed to be Indians, has died from exposure to cold weather on the Canadian side of the border with the US in an apparent human smuggling operation, according to media reports.

US canada border
US officials say the dead are believed to be a family from India. Photo source: Reuters)

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.

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 discovered cases of plastic cups, bottled water, bottled juice, and snacks located in the extreme rear of the passenger van. Law enforcement 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 said 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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