Embassy says authorities are co-operating closely to verify nationalities of those who died
Vietnam’s government confirmed on Saturday that it was working with UK authorities to verify the nationality of the people who died in this week’s suspected human trafficking case in Essex. Financial Times reports.
British police are investigating one of the country’s biggest mass murder cases after 39 bodies were found in a truck in Watergate Industrial Park on Wednesday. They have arrested four people so far, including the truck driver, and investigators are probing potential links to organised crime.
A man and woman, both aged 38 and from Warrington in Cheshire, were taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, police said. A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested separately at Stansted airport in Essex.
Vietnam’s UK embassy said it was “closely monitoring the case, continuing to co-operate with Vietnam and the UK’s authorities to accelerate the process of confirming the victims’ identities, and is ready to carry out citizen protection measures if there are Vietnamese citizens involved in the case”.
The UK police had given “an initial steer” in the early stages of the investigation that the victims were believed to be Chinese nationals. But on Friday, Hoa Nghiem, a Vietnamese human rights activist, said that one of the people found dead in the truck might have come from Vietnam.
She said she had been contacted by the family of Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who were trying to determine whether she was among those in the truck after receiving text messages from her saying that she “can’t breathe” and was dying, saying: “I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed.”
Ms Nghiem told the FT in a text message that the young woman’s family’s lawyer had said that there were six to seven other people with whom relatives had lost contact, suggesting that there might have been more Vietnamese people in the truck.
We’ve known for some time that as we increase border security largely on Dover to Calais and other nearby routes that we displace this traffic both in terms of organised criminality and opportunistic efforts to migrate
The refrigerated trailer, found in the industrial estate in Grays, Essex in the early hours of Wednesday morning, had arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium. It was picked up by the 25-year-old driver who police said arrived in his tractor unit last weekend at the port of Holyhead, north Wales, off a ferry from Dublin.
A number of Vietnamese migrants have been involved in cases of human trafficking cases in the UK in recent years. Some of those seeking to enter Britain or other EU countries sometimes go via China in transit to obtain passports there.
The tragedy has raised questions beyond the immediate probe, including how to stop the smugglers and dissuade migrants from taking the huge risks involved in getting to the UK.
Campaigners blame the UK’s tight immigration rules, which prevent people who have been trafficked or are facing abuse from contacting the authorities, for fear of being removed from the country. They also argue the lack of a legal route for low-skilled migrants prompts traffickers to trick people into modern slavery and prompts would-be migrants to turn to smugglers.
“It’s a really complicated debate,” said Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
There are also concerns that despite moves by ministers to tighten border security in recent years in response to the migrant crisis in Europe, security at some UK ports remains lax.
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the ISU, a union for immigration staff, said government spending on border security had been focused on those routes used by illegal migrants that received most media attention.
As a result scrutiny at the Channel ports, especially Dover, has increased sharply and since the end of last year significant funds had also been diverted to the prevention of crossings on small boats.
Other routes were neglected, despite a recent warning from the National Crime Agency, which leads the fights against organised crime and is assisting Essex police in the Grays investigations, that smaller ports, like Purfleet, were vulnerable to smuggling.
“We’ve known for some time that as we increase border security largely on Dover to Calais and other nearby routes that we displace this traffic both in terms of organised criminality and opportunistic efforts to migrate,” Ms Moreton said.
However, the shifting migration routes may not be the only factor in this week’s tragedy that reflects the unintended consequences of efforts to stamp out illegal migration.
Sharon Pickering, professor of criminology at Monash University in Australia, said that tightening border security often prompted migrants or those trafficking them to take dangerous steps to evade checks.
She pointed out that the people found dead this week in Essex were in a refrigerated truck — a tactic that traffickers often use to evade checks by thermal-imaging cameras and sniffer dogs at ports. The trailers are tightly sealed and operate at very low temperatures, exposing migrants to greater dangers.
“What happens with border hardening is people take more and more risks,” Professor Pickering said. “As people take more risks, what you see is more tragedies.”
Even greater prosperity in the areas that produce migration may not be enough to stem the flow, according to people familiar with patterns of migration. Frank Pieke, chief executive of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, pointed to Fujian province in China, which produces many migrants. People in that region have long had a strong tradition of going abroad to get ahead and it persists even though the province is one of the coastal regions that has benefited from the country’s economic boom.
“Many middle-class parents who in the UK or US would say they want to send their kids to university in Fujian would say they want to send their children abroad,” Mr Pieke said. “It’s totally part of the local culture.”
Prof Pickering, however, warned that no single measure to address the dangers of migration was likely to work. She said it was vital to think about a whole range of social, political and economic “drivers” that pushed people to migrate.
“You cannot just pick one piece of a migration journey and say, ‘If only I intervene there,’ because migrations do not stop and start — migrations just change.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Vietnam Insider and is published from a syndicated feed.)