Saturday, May 21, 2022

Bodies of families who died trying to cross the border cannot return to India


Hina Alam and Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, January 29, 2022 7:12 am EST

A relative of a family in southern Manitoba who died while trying to cross the United States border says it is hopeful the bodies will not be sent to India for funerals.

Amritbhai’s lawyer said that the family members have decided that it would be emotionally difficult to see the couple and their two children and that it would be very costly to carry the dead bodies.

“Can you imagine what will happen to the parents when they see four bodies at once?” They said.

He hopes the funeral can take place in Canada, the lawyer said.

RCMP and diplomatic officials released the names of the dead on Thursday: Jagdish Patel, 39; his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37; their 11-year-old daughter Vihangi Patel; and their three-year-old son, Dharmik Patel.

Mounties said the family, from Dingucha village in India’s western state of Gujarat, went to Toronto on January 12. Their frozen bodies were found seven days later in the snow just a few meters from the border.

A man on the American side was arrested on charges of human trafficking. US officials allege he is part of an organized human-trafficking enterprise.

US court documents allege that Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., was driving a van with two Indian nationals south of the border on January 19.

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Documents say five other people from India were seen in the snow while walking in the direction of the van. They told border officials that they had been walking for more than 11 hours in the freezing cold and that four others had separated from the group overnight.

Documents say a man in the group also said he had paid a large sum of money to get a fake student visa in Canada and was hoping to go to a relative’s home in Chicago after crossing the border .

A statement by India’s foreign ministry said the High Commission in Ottawa and the Consulate General in Toronto are working closely with the Canadian authorities.

Director General of Police in Gujarat Anil Pratham said he was waiting for information and guidance from abroad to take his investigation forward. Pratham said he believed the Patels used a local travel agent to obtain a Canadian visa.

In a phone interview with Dingucha, the lawyer said the family in India had been wondering for several days whether the bodies found in Canada were their relatives. The family knew that the four had traveled to Canada, he said, but no one had reached them.

He said the family is going through complicated emotions.

“They knew in their hearts that it was their children, but they didn’t want to believe it,” the lawyer said.

“He had some hope, but knew it was false hope. When the thing you fear most turns out to be true it’s shocking and even sad.”

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He said the week the authorities got help to identify the Patels helped to defuse the shock. “It’s time to process our thoughts and feelings.”

He said that the family is conducting a 15-day mourning and prayer meeting in the village.

There was to be a different service Friday night in Winnipeg. The president of the India Association of Manitoba said it collaborated with local organizations to put together a one-hour virtual get-together for community members. The group worked with officials from the Toronto consulate to help identify the Patels.

Ramandeep Grewal said that the desire is to give the members of the community a way to deal with their misery. With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the groups decided to keep some online.

Grewal said since the news of the deaths, people have been reaching out to share their stories of immigrating to the US or Canada.

“I think it is very important that everyone get together and talk about it. It is a little soothing for everyone,” he said.

“Otherwise people are just wondering about … (and) what went wrong.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 28, 2022.

This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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