“That light of the distant US gas station is your navigational guide. There is no other milestone in this snowy patch,” were the instructions given to 11 Gujaratis, including four of the Patel family, from Dingucha before they embarked on the deadly walk in -35°C on the Canada-US border near Emerson in Manitoba.
This last conversation was revealed by “travel agents” Bhavesh Patel (30) from Palna and Yogesh Patel (42) from Ahmedabad. The duo was rounded up on Saturday and are a crucial link in the alleged network which sent the Patels off to the US.
DCP (Crime) Chaitanya Malik briefed that the arrest came after months of technical surveillance. “The two were helped by Canada-based Fenil Patel and Bittu Paaji in illegal immigration from Canada to the US. Despite knowing the weather conditions were harsh, the 11 were given an ultimatum of this being their last chance. They have been booked for culpable homicide. Crime Branch PSI D.B. Thakor is the complainant in the case,” he added.
The tragic death of the family in the extreme weather in January 2022 brought back to the fore, the thriving human trafficking Gujarat’s underbelly, hitched on to the American Dream.
It prompted Gujarat police to launch a probe into the activities of local agents who illegally send families to the U.S. and Canada charging huge sums. Over last year, the CID (Crime) anti-human trafficking branch took to investigating the networks of agents operating in the state. The system routes its “consignments” through the Canada border or the more circuitous Tukey-Mexico route. Closely trailing the case, the Delhi Police is reported to have booked nearly 12 human smugglers in 20 illegal immigration cases, involving 40 people.
The number includes three from Ahmedabad, two each from Gandhinagar, Valsad and Kheda and one each from Patan, Jamnagar and Valsad. In 2021, of the seven booked for the same crime, six were from Mehsana.
Further, it seems the tragic end of the Patel family did little to deter others in Dingucha village in north Gujarat, a region where migrating to U.S. or Canada remains the first priority among the Patel community. Unconfirmed reports gathered by investigating agencies peg the number of such aspirants to 4,900 in 2022.
An investigating officer shared: “Before the Dingucha tragedy, people were charged Rs 35 lakhs per person Rs 65 lakhs for a family of four. However, now the rates have soared to 65 lakhs for an individual and Rs 1 to Rs 1.5 crores for a family of four. The sum is all inclusive: flight tickets, stay during transit, sim cards and other requirement.” The agents usually map the road to the US via Canada or through the Turkey-Mexico route.
“Sometimes, the prospective immigrant is sent on a shorter trip to Dubai or Malaysia just to show officials that the person is wander-struck. Then comes the planned move,” shared the officer.
On the other hand, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch undertook “Operation Mekla” to target the racketeers. While two arrests were made in February 2022, the sleuths were mapping the moves of racket kingpin Bharat alias Bobby Patel. The latter was finally nabbed on December 13, but with no less than 55 passports under his belt, the police and judicial systems are having to wrangle out the cases clearly.
Just as Bobby was rounded up in the city, Gujarat was once again jolted by the tragic news of Kalol resident Brijkumar Yadav, who fell to his death on the Mexico side while trying to illegally scale the Trump Wall on the US-Mexico border. His wife and child suffered injuries and were hospitalised in the US.
In short, the US Dream is alive and kicking in Gujarat, pushing aspirants for a better future and secure income to the US. Mostly, such network of agents operates in Mehsana and Gandhinagar districts in north Gujarat, Anand and Nadiad in central Gujarat and a few pockets in Saurashtra region from where a large number of Patidars have settled in the US and Canada.
Also Read: Two Illegal Immigration Agents Held