Searchers look for victims at the river that straddles the Canada-U.S. border | Photo: AP
Toronto: Canadian police have recovered the bodies of two more migrants, including that of an Indian woman, who drowned in a river while two families of Indian and Romanian descent were attempting to enter the US from Canada illegally, taking the death toll to eight.
The bodies were found on Friday in a marsh on the riverbank near Akwesasne, a community which straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York state. One other person is still missing.
The two more bodies recovered included one infant, who was a Canadian citizen of Romanian descent. The second was of a woman who was an Indian national, CTV news reported.
Police say the deceased — believed to be two families of Indian and Romanian descent — were trying to cross the St Lawrence River into the United States from Canada. Among them were two children under the age of three, both Canadian citizens.
"Unfortunately, these situations happen. It's not something new,” Akwesasne Mohawk Police chief Shawn Dulude said of people trying to cross. “We've seen it happen in the past, and hopefully as we move forward … it's something we can one day eliminate,” the officer was quoted as saying by the Montreal Gazette newspaper.
Akwesasne police are working with Immigration Canada to assist with identifying the victims and notifying the next of kin. They are also increasing surveillance on the river, it said.
Authorities located the first body in the marsh around 5 pm on Thursday during an aerial search conducted at the request of the Canadian Coast Guard.
Throughout the day on Friday, search crews could be seen wading through a marshy area near the local marina with the help of a light airboat. A helicopter also scanned the river.
The last two bodies were retrieved from the water during the day.
Police recovered two more bodies from the river on Friday, after discovering six bodies and an overturned boat during a missing person search Thursday afternoon, CBC News reported.
They are believed to have been an Indian family and a Romanian family who were attempting to cross into the US, police said, adding, that an Akwesasne resident remains missing.
The bodies were discovered as the result of a search for another missing person, Casey Oakes, that also started Thursday.
He was last seen Wednesday boarding a small, light blue vessel departing from the east end of Cornwall Island, in St. Lawrence.
The vessel Oakes was using was later found near the bodies of the six deceased. Akwesasne police could not confirm whether Oakes has any connection to the victims.
Dulude would not speculate on what caused the deaths and said a coroner will determine the cause of death.
"It could be anything that could have caused this tragedy. It could be a faulty boat, it could be human error, and the investigation will determine that," he said.
A storm that brought high winds and sleet rolled through the area on Wednesday night. "It was not a good time to be out on the water," said Akwesasne deputy police chief Lee-Ann O'Brien.
According to police, there has seen an uptick in human smuggling into the US. Ryan Brissette, a public affairs officer with US Customs and Border Patrol, says the agency had seen a "massive uptick in encounters and apprehensions" at the border.
The agency saw more than eight times as many people try to cross from Canada into the U.S. in 2022 compared to previous years, he said. Many of them — more than 64,000 — came through Quebec or Ontario into New York.
"Comparing this area in the past, this is a significant number," Brissette said.
"There's a lot of different reasons as to why this is happening, why folks are coming all of a sudden through the northern border. I think a lot of them think it's easier, an easy opportunity and they just don't know the danger that it poses, especially in the winter months," the officer said.
Akwesasne police say there have been 48 incidents of people trying to cross illegally into Canada or the United States through the Mohawk territory since January, and most of them have been of Indian or Romanian descent.
In January 2022, the bodies of four Indians, including a baby, were found frozen in Manitoba near the Canada-US border.
In April 2022, six Indian nationals were rescued from a sinking boat in the St. Regis River, which runs through Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.