Human trafficking feared behind 39 deaths: expert

By Sun Wei in Essex and Shan Jie, Leng Shumei and Deng Xiaoci in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/25 1:03:39

Chinese netizens offer condolences, call for probe

Flag is flown at half-staff on Thursday outside Thurrock Council, UK, near where the bodies of 39 Chinese nationals were found Wednesday in a refrigerated truck trailer. Photo: Sun Wei/GT

Chinese internet users expressed devastation upon hearing Thursday that police had confirmed the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck trailer in Essex, the UK were all Chinese nationals.

The news garnered more than 610 million views and 149,000 comments as of press time on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo. 

Net users expressed condolences for the victims and called for a comprehensive investigation. Many wondered where the victims were from and why they were on the truck.

The Chinese Embassy in London said that it was in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the case in Essex. The embassy said in an earlier statement on Thursday that it had read "with heavy heart" reports. 

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in an online statement that it was in the process of verifying the reports. As of press time, the ministry said nothing more could be released.

The bodies were found Wednesday in the back of a refrigerated truck trailer in an industrial estate near London, ITV News reported Thursday. 

Essex Police confirmed 31 of the victims were men, eight women and all were adults. Earlier reports incorrectly stated one of the victims was a teenager.

The Essex Police said in a statement Thursday that they were working on piecing together the case, which was "the largest murder investigation in our force's history." 

The statement said they were undertaking extensive and thorough inquiries, meaning they "might not have all the answers straight away."

The UK National Crime Agency told the Global Times on Thursday that they were working with partners, including Essex Police and Immigration Enforcement to provide specialist support to urgently identify and take action against any organised crime groups deaths."

British police work on Thursday alongside the refrigerated truck trailer in which the bodies were found of 39 Chinese nationals Wednesday at Waterglade Industrial Park, Essex. Photo: Sun Wei/GT

Detectives said the trailer containing the victims arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge of Belgium at around 12:30 am on Wednesday, while the front section came from Northern Ireland, ITV News reported.

Driver Mo Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder, reports said. 

The trailer temperature could be as low as -25 C inside, according to the Mirror, implying that the 39 victims may have frozen to death.

"I am horrified and deeply saddened by the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in the UK," Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. "Those responsible must be swiftly brought to justice."

Smuggling atrocities

The case echoed previous human trafficking cases involving Chinese nationals.

In 2000, the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found in a truck in Dover. That truck was also driven from Zeebrugge to the UK and later confirmed to be a part of a Chinese gang smuggling route.

According to Liu Guofu, an immigration law expert at the Beijing Institute of Technology,  going abroad has become more convenient for Chinese nationals, providing opportunities for those who seek to illegally emigrate.

"The illegal immigrants usually work in construction, restaurants or sweat factories. Some women may be forced to be sex workers abroad," Liu told the Global Times on Thursday.

Illegal immigration from China to other countries has been declining in general in recent years, Liu said. 

"However, still quite a number of people are smuggling themselves into the UK and this case in Essex might reveal the tip of an iceberg of issues." 

Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at Renmin University in Beijing, said, "Some forces think they could have opportunities to enter the UK in the chaotic situation of Brexit." 

Behind the illegal immigrants was "a complete chain of people smuggling," Wang told the Global Times on Thursday.

In October, more than 10 Chinese being smuggled from East China's Fujian Province died in a shipwreck in the Caribbean.

An article by Chinese Weekly in 2016 quoted an illegal immigrant in Portsmouth saying it cost 290,000 yuan (US$41,003) to be smuggled to the UK in 2008. 

Many Chinese immigrants leave via Fujian and their destinations are usually the US, the UK, Western European countries or Japan.
Newspaper headline: Shocking UK truck tragedy


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