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England truck deaths highlight smuggling routes

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-01 07:43
Residents light candles to pray for 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London in front of Hanoi Cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Oct 27, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Details are emerging about some of the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck in England on Oct 23 and their journeys through France and Belgium prior to the tragedy.

British media is suggesting that those who died may have been migrants trying to enter the United Kingdom illegally, though it is not yet clear whether they froze or suffocated to death.

The eight female and 31 male victims were carrying very few identity documents, leaving authorities to rely on fingerprints, DNA and distinguishing features such as tattoos or scars.

The driver of the vehicle, which had arrived in England via the Belgian ferry port of Zeebrugge early on Oct 23, has been charged with multiple counts of manslaughter.

According to a BBC report, people smugglers view France as a springboard to London. But while it is easy to get to France from Germany, Belgium or even Poland, it is much harder-and more expensive-to secretly transport people from France to the United Kingdom.

The broadcaster spoke to a Vietnamese man who last week had taken the same illegal journey from Zeebrugge to London. The man said he knew 12 of those thought to have died.

The man originally posted anonymously via Facebook from the UK: "I left for the UK a day before the 39 people who died. There were seven people in my lorry (truck). It was not refrigerated so breathing wasn't a problem."

He said he had traveled from Vietnam via Russia, where he lived in a warehouse for a month, before crossing woodland, arriving in Germany, and then in France.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, second from left, stands with the Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben-Julian Harrington, October 28, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

One of the missing who may be among the victims, Nguyen Van Hung, was last seen leaving Marseille for Paris. Another, Nguyen Dinh Luong, had been living in France for the past 18 months, working in a Paris restaurant.

Thi Hiep Nguyen, one of France's leading experts on Vietnamese illegal migrant networks told BBC: "The boarding places change all the time. It's quicker if they can find a truck that's going directly from Belgium or Germany, and they can avoid Paris. But only the richest can afford to go that way."

Hiep's report into the networks in France quotes a smuggler, arrested in France in 2012, who said the money went to a "big boss" in Paris.

"They're not just in Paris, they're everywhere," said Hiep. "There are bosses in every country in Europe."

Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to enter the UK illegally via European ferry ports, typically hiding in vehicles.

Refrigerated trucks are often targeted because they can more easily bypass heat scanners, a spokeswoman for Belgian transport federation Febetra said.

 

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