YEN THANH: Several townships in rural Vietnam sank into mourning with communities believing that many of the 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London this week came from poor, rice-growing areas of the country.
The bodies were discovered on Wednesday after emergency services were alerted to people in a truck container on an industrial site in Grays, about 32km east of London.
British police said on Saturday that they had charged one man, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and other offences including conspiracy to traffic people.
Police initially believed the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not been confirmed and on Saturday a senior British police officer in charge of identification asked for help from Britain’s Vietnamese community.
Chinese and Vietnamese officials are now both working closely with British police, the two countries’ embassies have said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered government officials to help establish the identities of the victims and look into cases of Vietnamese citizens sent abroad illegally.
Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a Catholic priest in the remote town of Yen Thanh in northern-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province, 300km south of Hanoi, said he believed most of the dead were likely from Vietnam. He said he was liaising with family members.
“The whole district is covered in sorrow, ” Nam said, as prayers for the dead rang out over loudspeakers throughout the misty, rain-soaked town on Saturday. “This is a catastrophe for our community.”
On Saturday evening, Nam led around 500 worshippers in prayers for the dead as they held lit candles in the modest, white-walled church in Yen Thanh.
“We are here to pray for justice and peace, and for the victims of society. We pray for the 39 people who lost their lives on the way to the UK. They are people coming from our land, ” Nam said.
Nam said families had told him they knew relatives were travelling to Britain at the time the container truck was travelling, and had been unable to contact their loved ones.
The British police officer in charge of identifying the victims, Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, said very few were carrying official identification and that he hoped to identify the dead through fingerprints, dental records and DNA, as well as photos from friends and relatives.
Police have found more than 500 items within the truck including bags, clothing and mobile phones that need to be assessed. Once a preliminary identification has been made, liaison officers will be deployed to support families.
Apart from the man charged, who will appear in court on Monday for an initial hearing, three other people are under arrest in Britain on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking. A fourth person is under arrest in Dublin.
How the victims came to be in the truck is not yet known.
Some 70% of Vietnamese trafficking cases in the United Kingdom between 2009-2016 were for labour exploitation, including cannabis production and work in nail bars, according to a British government report last year.
British police sought to reassure anyone living in Britain illegally that they would not be investigated if they came forward to help with the identification. — Reuters