Vietnam has arrested eight more suspects in connection with the deaths of 39 people found in a truck in Britain who are believed to be Vietnamese, police said Monday.
The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated lorry in an industrial park in Essex, east of London last month, in a case that has shaken Britain and exposed the deadly risks of illegal migration from Vietnam into Europe.
British police initially said the victims were Chinese, but several Vietnamese families came forward to say they feared their relatives were on the truck. None has so far been officially identified.
Many of the victims are suspected to have come from just two provinces in central Vietnam, including Nghe An, where eight people have been arrested in connection with the deaths, police said Monday, according to media reports.
“This was a very painful incident, a humanitarian accident,” said Nguyen Huu Cau, director of Nghe An police, confirming the arrests in video comments carried by the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.
The official Vietnam News Agency also confirmed the arrests, saying the suspects were detained for “organising (and) brokering people to go abroad and stay abroad illegally”.
Two other suspects were arrested in Ha Tinh province last week in relation to the Essex incident.
Brokers are rife in remote towns in central Vietnam, a hotspot for illegal migration into Europe.
DNA samples and fingerprints have been taken from several families in the area as officials in Vietnam and Britain work to identify the victims.
Families of the missing have told AFP that their children had gone overseas to find work, hoping to earn money to send back home.
Britain is a popular destination for Vietnamese illegal migrants, many of whom end up working in cannabis farms or nail bars.
Those without enough money to afford so-called “VIP packages” to fly to European countries before embarking on treacherous routes into Britain — usually in trucks — often travel westward via Russia or China.
The routes can be dangerous, with some people exploited for labour in factories or brothels along the way, NGOs and experts say.
– Manslaughter charges –
Vietnam’s public security minister To Lam said Monday the government would endeavour to bring the victims’ bodies back to the Southeast Asian country.
“After confirmation, the government will apply the quickest possible measures to bring the bodies of the victims back home in accordance with laws,” he was cited by the People’s Police online newspaper as saying.
The 25-year-old Northern Irish driver of the refrigerated truck found on October 23 has been charged with manslaughter, money-laundering and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
In Dublin, another Northern Irishman is facing extradition proceedings to bring him to Britain in connection with the incident.
British police have also said they want to speak to Ronan and Christopher Hughes, two brothers in the haulage business from Northern Ireland.
Three other people have been arrested and released on police bail.
A separate investigation published Monday by The Times newspaper in Britain said UK public schools were sponsoring student visas for Vietnamese teenagers who would go missing on their arrival in the UK.
The newspaper said it had identified “at least 21 Vietnamese children who have vanished” in this way over the last four years.
Most of the missing students — mostly girls and with some as young as 15 — were brought to Britain by suspected trafficking gangs and paid the fees for one term, with several of the children later found working in nail bars in the country.