Indian police have arrested six people in a crackdown on “illegal” immigration after four Indians were found frozen to death near the border between the United States and Canada last week, officials said.
Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year, braving harsh weather conditions in search of a better life and job opportunities in the West.
Police in Gujarat on Thursday said they identified the four, belonging to a single family, after law enforcement agencies on the border provided photographs of passports and other belongings.
“We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” police official A K Jhala said in the state capital of Gandhinagar.
The six arrested by police were running a travel and tourism company in the state, he added.
Later on Thursday, the High Commission of India in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, released the names of the four victims: Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39; Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37; Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11, and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, 3.
The Indian diplomatic mission to Canada also confirmed that all four died because of the freezing weather.
“Canadian authorities have also, after medical examination, informed that based on the circumstances, the death of all the persons have been determined to be consistent with exposure to the outdoor elements,” the commission said in a statement.
It added that India and Canada have “regular consular dialogue” to address unauthorised migration. “India and Canada work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all Indian immigrants into Canada,” the statement said.
US authorities have charged an American man with human trafficking after the four were found dead in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a few yards north of the frontier with Minnesota.
They were among four families from the same village who had travelled to the border this month.
Officials said they got separated from the group of 18 people and were probably caught in a blizzard, resulting in a tragedy described as “mind-blowing” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The situation came to light only when the group was intercepted by authorities and one of them was found to be carrying a backpack with baby supplies, although there was no infant with the group.
“The nexus of human trafficking runs deep, often involving local politicians too,” said Jhala, adding that people even sell their land and homes to fund efforts to get to the US or Canada.
A foreign ministry official in the Indian capital of New Delhi said authorities were coordinating with border officials in the US and Canada to investigate the case.