39 Vietnamese dead in UK, authorities said they were victims of human trafficking

The British police have identified the 39 people found dead in Essex on October 23rd as Vietnamese nationals. Vietnam´s government said “it strongly condemns human trafficking” and the ministry of foreign affairs called on the international community to “step up cooperation” to fight the humanitarian crisis.


The victims were all found in a refrigerated truck near the southeast port of Purfleet. At first, the British police identified them as Chinese nationals, however, multiple families from Vietnam reached out to the authorities concerning missing relatives. Last Friday, the police confirmed the victims were all from Vietnam and the Essex Police Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said that they are currently in contact with the Vietnamese government to identify the bodies.


Several people have been arrested in relation to the tragedy. “The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, 25, appeared in court on Monday on manslaughter charges,” stated BBC News. “Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Robinson was part of a “global ring” of people smugglers.”.


Multiple services have been held in east London at the Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which have both a large Vietnamese congregation, were Reverend Simon Nguyen said the 39 died “seeking freedom, dignity and happiness”, according to BBC News.


“That´s life. We have to sacrifice to earn a better living. Tiep is a good son. He wants to go overseas to work and take care of his parents when we get old. He insisted to go, for a better life,” said the mother of Hoang Van Tiep, 18, who is believed to be among the victims.


Multiple families from the village of Dien Thinh in north-central Vietnam, including Tiep´s, have forward their concerns that their family members are among the victims. With an average income of $1,620 in comparison with the city’s average of $2,587, most young adults move to the city or risk their lives through dangerous routes to get to Europe, in the look of a better future.


In order to be smuggled outside of the country, the prices range between $10,000 and $40,000 according to Precarious Journeys. Indeed, Tiep´s family received the last message from him on Oct. 22 – the day before the victims were found- saying he was on his way and to prepare $13,600 left to pay the traffickers. To pay, the family borrowed $17,500  from the Bank for the first time to send Tiep to France, when he was 16 years old, they still owe the bank around $4,000. Multiple families are in debt with traffickers, and while working in Europe, in nail salons, for example, or the money they received they usually destined it to pay their debts and to send to their families. 


Tiep´s payment for the trip to the UK was settled in two parts, one before the trip and another part after the arrival. But the smugglers never requested the second part of the money, and Tiep never texted after that day.


Indeed, this is not a new phenomenon among the Vietnamese community. From 2009 to 2018, 3,187 Vietnamese children and adults were identified by Vietnam´s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as trafficking victims, without counting the hundreds or thousands of unknown causes. Trafficking experts say most people leave for the UK or other European countries, with promises of work, especially nail salons, so they can send money to the families, as stated by the Guardian.


The UK and the Vietnamese governments are still working on the case.


To fight this, human trafficking, the Vietnamese government is taking steps on being cautious about issuing work-related passports and promoting more educational abroad passports, motivating young people to continúe their education. International officials should receive training on human trafficking, so they know how to act when they catch people that have been smuggled. Most of these people suffer the worst tortures and worker exploitation, and they should not be treated as criminals or delinquents.