Eight bodies that police recovered in a marshy area of St. Lawrence River in Quebec came from two families seeking clandestine entry into US, police say.
The bodies of two more migrants who died trying to cross from Canada into the United States, have been found, bringing the death toll to eight, including two children, police in the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne said.
The bodies of six people, described as members of two families of Romanian and Indian descent, were found on Thursday in a marshy area of the St. Lawrence River, which forms the Canada-U.S. border.
Akwesasne Mohawk Police Chief Shawn Dulude said authorities were still looking for a man, identified as Casey Oakes, 30, who was last seen Wednesday operating a boat that was found next to the bodies.
A police helicopter spotted the latest two bodies in the water.
"A total of eight bodies have now been recovered from the waters. All are believed to have been attempting illegal entry into the United States from Canada," Dulude said.
"Our community has been exploited by this," said Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. "This is not the first time that tragedy has happened in our community like this. We’ve had other losses."
Weather conditions in the area were rough on Wednesday night, said Lee-Ann O'Brien, deputy chief of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service.
O'Brien said six of the bodies were located during a search for Oakes who was reported missing Thursday.
Oakes was last seen Wednesday around 9:30 pm [local time] boarding a small boat departing from the east end of Cornwall Island, located in the St. Lawrence River and on the Ontario side of the Mohawk territory.
"The individuals are believed to be from two families, one of Romanian descent and the other believed to be citizens of India," O'Brien said, adding that they include five adults and one child under the age of three.
"All are believed to have been attempting illegal entry into the US from Canada," she said.
The capsized boat was described as "very small" for poor weather conditions including rain, sleet and strong wind.
"It was not a good time to be out on the water," she said.
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The Mohawk tribal territory straddles the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and the US state of New York.
The first body was found during an aerial search of the area.
Authorities are waiting on autopsy as well as toxicology test results to determine the cause of death.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters, said: "Our hearts go out to the families of the individuals who perished. This is a heartbreaking situation, particularly given the young child that was among them."
O'Brien noted a recent "increase in people passing through Akwesasne gaining entry into the US," with 48 crossings since the start of the year.
Once landing on the US side, they are typically picked up on shore and transported by vehicle into New York State, she said.
Two other people have been found dead near the border in recent months while trying to cross illegally into the United States from Canada.
The two countries struck a deal on managing the growing issue of undocumented migration on their lengthy border during President Joe Biden's visit to Ottawa last week.
The arrangement will see undocumented asylum seekers crossing from the United States into Canada turned back, while Canada will simultaneously expand the pathway for legal entries.
The plan — similar to a crackdown on the much more heavily used US-Mexican border — has been criticised by migrants' rights activists.
However, Biden and Trudeau are both under political pressure to relieve their badly strained immigration systems.
In April 2022, six Indian nationals were rescued from a sinking boat in the St. Regis River, which runs through Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. A seventh person, spotted leaving the vessel and wading ashore, was later identified as a US citizen.
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