Gujarat: Despair at home after India migrants die at US border

Jasubhai Chaudhary
Image caption,Jasubhai Chaudhary, left, says he is now trying get his relatives’ bodies back to India

Relatives of an Indian family whose bodies were found in a river marsh near the US-Canada border last week say they are still in shock.

The bodies of the four Indians were among eight that police recovered from the St Lawrence river between Thursday and Friday. Authorities have said that the bodies were of two migrant families from India and Romania who they believe were trying to cross into the US.

The Indians who died were identified as Pravin Chaudhary, 50, his wife Diksha, 45, their son Meet, 20, and their daughter Vidhi, 24. They were from Manekpur Dabhala village in Mehsana district in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

On Monday, there was an air of gloom over the village when BBC Gujarati visited it. The sounds of wailing women could be heard in the distance.

Pravin Chaudhary’s cousin Jasubhai Chaudhary said he started getting worried on Saturday morning, when he saw news on TV about the bodies of four Indians being found. His cousin and family had left for Canada on visitor visas on 3 February.

“I was worried and called him,” Jasubhai Chaudhary said. “But he didn’t answer.”

Police and firemen carry a bag off their search boat from the marshland in Akwesasne, Quebec, Canada
Image caption,The Gujarati family was among eight migrants found dead near the US-Canada border

The family’s fears were confirmed after a relative in the US received an email from the Canadian police about the deaths.

As Jasubhai Chaudhary spoke, shocked villagers kept visiting his house to offer their condolences.

Sanju Chaudhary, a neighbour, said that Pravin Chaudhary had been doing well before he left – he was a farmer and also supplied milk in tankers to customers in other districts.

Another neighbour said that the family was friendly with everyone in the village and had lived “a happy and decent life”.

Jasubhai Chaudhary says that he and other relatives did not know why his cousin and family were travelling to the US.

“As far as we knew, they only went to Canada and did not have any plans to go to the US,” he says.

In January 2022, the bodies of another family of four from Gujarat were found frozen to death near the US-Canada border. The Patel family were also believed to be trying to enter the US, officials said.

Like the Chaudharys, the Patels also seemed to have comfortable lives in India. But many locals from northern Gujarat told the BBC that people here dreamt of moving to foreign countries, especially the US, in the hope of a better life. Some even fell victim to human smugglers in their desire to reach their goals.

The Gujarat police has been cracking down on such human trafficking networks operating in the state.

The Chaudhary house in Mehsana
Image caption,The Chaudharys’ house in Mehsana had been closed since the family left in February

In February, they arrested two agents for facilitating the illegal immigration of four people. A team is also investigating the circumstances behind the death of the Patel family and have arrested a number of people.

US border agents have also said there is a recent uptick in people crossing from Canada. US Border Patrol says it has apprehended 367 people attempting to cross north to south this January near Montreal – more than the number of such crossings in the last 12 years combined.

Police in India told the BBC that they wouldn’t investigate the Chaudharys’ deaths unless Canadian police approach the Indian government or something comes up in the investigation there.

“They had a valid visa and passport when they left for Canada. So there is nothing we need to investigate as of now,” says Dinesh Sinh Chauhan, the local deputy superintendent of police.

Back in Mehsana, the Chaudharys’ bungalow – just a few metres from Jasubhai Chaudhary’s house – looks deserted, with a thick layer of dust over its doors and windows. The house has been closed since the family left in February.

Jasubhai Chaudhary says he has contacted to the district’s collector for help in bringing back his relatives’ bodies.

“We are just waiting for their bodies to reach here so that we can see all of them one last time.”

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