Canadian authorities found the bodies of four people including a baby who apparently froze to death in a blizzard a few meters from the US border along a route used by migrants, officials said Thursday.
The temperature Wednesday when the bodies were found amid vast snowdrifts, taking into account the wind, was minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit).
“At this very early stage of the investigation, it appears that they all died due to exposure to the cold weather,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.
The bodies of two adults and a baby were found about 12 meters (yards) from the US border about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the town of Emerson in central Manitoba province.
The body of a fourth person who appeared to be a teenage boy was found later, police said.
Earlier in the day, border agents on the US side detained a group of people who had just crossed over and had baby items with them but no baby. This triggered a search on both sides of the border.
The first bodies were found after four hours of searching.
The US Department of Justice said Thursday they had arrested a man along the same route, charging him with human smuggling.
The 47-year-old Florida native was found driving a van with two undocumented Indian nationals inside less than one mile south of the Canadian border, the Department said, near where the group of migrants was arrested.
The nationalities of the deceased were not given, though the US Department of Justice said they were “tentatively identified” to be separated members of the same group that was arrested.
Manitoba Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told an earlier press conference she considered these people “victims.”
“We’re very concerned that this attempted crossing may have been facilitated in some way and that these individuals including an infant were left on their own in the middle of a blizzard when the weather had hovered around minus 35 degrees Celsius, factoring the wind,” she said.
“These victims face not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts, and complete darkness,” she added.
Police used snowmobiles and other all-terrain vehicles to search the area.
Emerson is along a route which migrants use to travel between the United States and Canada.
Crossing attempts have been down for a year because the border has been closed due to the pandemic, said MacLatchy.
Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang
Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.
The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.”
China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”
Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.
“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years.
The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary.
“I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.
Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.”
“I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP.
“If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.”
Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism.
It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.
An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites.
The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province.
Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access.
The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation.
Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.”
“I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added.
Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”
“There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.
In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say.
Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.
Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China
Russia’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.
“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.
He also said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.
“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.
UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.
The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.
This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.
“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.
The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.
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