#Camion_de_la_honte : les 39 victimes sont chinoises
L’enquête semble se diriger vers un nouveau drame d’esclavage moderne, avec la révélation de la nationalité chinoise des 39 victimes, 8 femmes et 31 hommes.
Ils n’ont pas encore de noms, d’âge et encore moins de sépultures. Mais on sait déjà que leur voyage cauchemardesque a commencé loin, très loin, à l’autre bout du monde. Les 39 personnes retrouvées sans vie dans la nuit de mardi à mercredi dans le conteneur d’un camion réfrigéré sur une zone industrielle de l’Essex, à l’est de l’Angleterre, venaient de Chine. Il y avait 8 femmes, dont une très jeune adulte, et 31 hommes, a confirmé jeudi la police d’Essex.
L’ambassade de Chine au Royaume-Uni a immédiatement réagi. « C’est avec un cœur lourd que nous lisons ces informations », a tweeté un porte-parole en indiquant « travailler avec la police pour éclaircir et confirmer la situation ». Ce n’est pas la première fois, sans doute pas la dernière, que des Chinois sont les victimes d’un drame de l’esclavage moderne au Royaume-Uni, les otages de gangs ultra-organisés, aux ramifications mondiales, des triades chinoises aux réseaux criminels d’Europe centrale et à ceux d’Europe occidentale. Ces criminels vendent, très cher et sans scrupule, la promesse d’un eldorado qui n’existe pas.
L’enquête le confirmera, mais la National Crime Agency (NCA), qui travaille en coordination avec la police de l’Essex et celle d’Irlande du Nord d’où est originaire le chauffeur du camion, a indiqué chercher à identifier « des groupes de crime organisé qui pourraient avoir joué un rôle » dans cette tragédie. La garde à vue du chauffeur, un homme de 25 ans, a été prolongée de vingt-quatre heures et des perquisitions étaient en cours dans trois résidences en Irlande du Nord, dans le comté d’Armagh. Selon le Daily Mail, qui cite un proche, le jeune homme aurait lui-même prévenu les secours après avoir ouvert l’arrière du camion pour y récupérer des papiers. La police n’a pas confirmé ces informations.
En 2000, 58 Chinois retrouvés morts dans un camion
Le 18 juin 2000 déjà, 58 Chinois avaient été retrouvés morts asphyxiés à l’arrière d’un camion, dans le port de Douvres. Seules 2 personnes avaient survécu. Grâce à elles, le périple infernal des victimes avait été retracé. Partis de la province chinoise de Fujian, sur le littoral du sud-est de la Chine, en face de l’île de Taiwan, ils avaient pris un avion depuis Pékin, avec leurs passeports légaux, jusqu’à Belgrade en Yougoslavie.
Des passeports volés, coréens pour la plupart, leur avaient alors été fournis. De Belgrade, ils avaient été acheminés par petits groupes dans des camionnettes vers la Hongrie, puis l’Autriche et la France. De là, ils avaient pris un train vers les Pays-Bas où ils avaient été « cueillis » par la branche européenne du gang de trafiquants, à Rotterdam. Enfermés à 60 dans un camion, dont le sas de ventilation avait été fermé, avec seulement quatre seaux d’eau, ils étaient morts étouffés lors de la traversée de Zeebruges en Belgique à Douvres. Le chauffeur, un Néerlandais, et une interprète chinoise, le contact des immigrés au Royaume-Uni, avaient été condamnés respectivement à seize et six ans de prison.
« On coule »
C’est aussi de la province de Fujian que venaient la plupart des 23 immigrés illégaux chinois, retrouvés noyés quatre ans plus tard, le 5 février 2004, dans la baie de Morecambe, dans le Lincolnshire (nord-ouest de l’Angleterre). Ils avaient été embauchés pour pêcher à marée basse des coques. Payés la misérable somme de 5 pounds (6 euros) pour 25 kg de coquillages. Cette baie est immense, sujette à de grands mouvements de marée. Les Chinois ne parlaient pas ou très peu anglais, ne connaissaient pas le coin, le danger de l’eau montante.
C’était l’hiver, ils étaient à pied d’œuvre dans la soirée, dans l’obscurité. Un pêcheur chinois avait donné l’alerte en appelant les secours sur son téléphone portable et en criant, dans un anglais approximatif : « On coule, on coule dans l’eau, beaucoup, beaucoup, on coule dans l’eau. » 23 personnes s’étaient noyées. Le crâne d’une femme avait été rejeté sur la plage six ans plus tard. Le corps d’une des victimes n’a jamais été retrouvé.
Un seul homme, Li Hua, a survécu. Dix ans plus tard, en 2014, il se confiait à la BBC. « Il faisait un noir d’encre et j’étais terrifié. Je me suis dit que je n’avais plus qu’à me laisser mourir et puis, je ne sais pas, une vague m’a retourné… J’étais seul et soudain, un hélicoptère m’a repéré. » Son témoignage avait permis la condamnation d’un trafiquant, Lin Liang Ren, à quatorze ans de prison. Pour éviter toutes représailles, Li Hua avait été placé sous la protection spéciale du gouvernement britannique. « Nous sommes tous venus ici pour la même raison. Nous avons laissé derrière nous nos familles pour construire une vie meilleure. Et tous ont disparu d’un coup, juste comme ça. J’ai juste eu de la chance. »
L’identification de chacun « pourrait prendre du temps »
Jeudi en milieu de journée, le camion et ses 39 victimes étaient dissimulés dans un hangar du port de Tilbury Docks, à quelques centaines de mètres de là où le conteneur a été débarqué mardi dans la nuit en provenance de Zeebruges. Les autorités belges ont précisé que le conteneur était arrivé dans le port ce même mardi, à 14h29, avant d’être embarqué sur un ferry dans la soirée. Pour le moment, les enquêteurs ne savent pas à quel moment, ni où exactement les victimes ont été enfermées dans le conteneur.
A l’abri des regards, les médecins légistes ont entrepris la lourde tâche d’examiner les corps un à un pour déterminer les causes du décès. Ensuite, les autorités tenteront « d’établir l’identité de chacun, une opération qui pourrait prendre du temps », a précisé la police. Alors, ces âmes auront peut-être enfin un nom, un visage et quelqu’un pour les pleurer, loin très loin de ce triste hangar.
–-> On sait depuis que probablement les victimes ne sont pas chinoises, mais vietnamiennes...
“Mi dispiace mamma. Il mio viaggio all’estero non è riuscito. Mamma ti voglio tanto bene!
Sto morendo perché non riesco a respirare …
Vengo da Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam …
Mi dispiace, mamma.”
Questo è l’ultimo, straziante, SMS che una ragazza ventiseienne vietnamita, di nome Pham Thi Trà My ha inviato, presumibilmente dall’interno del TIR dell’orrore, martedì scorso, 22 Ottobre 2019.
Un messaggio carico di disperazione, un ultimo pensiero per la persona a lei più cara, la mamma.
La sua mamma.
E’ drammatico questo messaggio, perché ci fa comprendere che quei 39 migranti asiatici hanno sentito giungere la loro morte; ne hanno sofferto; hanno pensato; hanno avuto tutto il tempo per comprendere che la loro fine si andava, inesorabilmente, avvicinando.
E tutto questo è terribile. Terribile. Terribile.
Non sopporto più questa disumanità, non sopporto chi continua a dire aiutiamoli a casa loro, non sopporto chi continua a gioire (ma come cazzo si fa a gioire?) di questi tragici eventi.
Io, lo dico francamente, sto imparando ad odiare!
Ad odiare voi indifferenti, voi complici, voi misera gente che vi girate dall’altra parte.
Ci state riuscendo.
State riuscendo a trasformarmi, piano piano.
State riuscendo a trasmettermi il vostro odio ma, sappiate, lo utilizzerò solo contro voi.
Contro voi che pensate di essere gli unici ad avere diritto alla vita e spero, per questo, un giorno siate puniti!
Perdonaci, se puoi, Pham Thi Trà My…
Essex lorry deaths: Vietnamese families fear relatives among dead
At least six of the 39 people found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex may have been from Vietnam.
The BBC knows of six Vietnamese families who fear their relatives are among the victims.
They include Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who has not been heard from since she sent text messages on Tuesday saying she could not breathe.
A man was earlier arrested at Stansted Airport on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.
The 48-year-old from Northern Ireland is the fourth person to be arrested in connection with the investigation.
Two people from Warrington are being held on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people and the lorry driver is in custody on suspicion of murder.
Ms Tra My’s brother, Pham Ngoc Tuan, said some of the £30,000 charge for getting his sister to the UK had been paid to people smugglers and her last-known location had been Belgium.
The smugglers are understood to have returned money to some families.
Meanwhile, relatives of Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, have also said they fear he is among the 39 victims.https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/660/cpsprodpb/065B/production/_109372610_phamtramy.jpg https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/2799/production/_109373101_mediaitem109373099.jpg https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/128F1/production/_109371067_mediaitem109348858.jpg
Ms Tra My’s brother told the BBC: "My sister went missing on 23 October on the way from Vietnam to the UK and we couldn’t contact her. We are concerned she may be in that trailer.
“We are asking the British police to help investigate so that my sister can be returned to the family.”
The last message received from Ms Tra My was at 22:30 BST on Tuesday - two hours before the trailer arrived at the Purfleet terminal from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Her family have shared texts she sent to her parents which translated read: "I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed.
“I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.”
Ms Tra My’s brother told the BBC her journey to the UK had begun on 3 October. She had told the family not to contact her because “the organisers” did not allow her to receive calls.
“She flew to China and stayed there for a couple days, then left for France,” he said.
“She called us when she reached each destination. The first attempt she made to cross the border to the UK was 19 October, but she got caught and turned back. I don’t know for sure from which port.”
The BBC has passed details of Ms Tra My, who is from Nghen town in Can Loc district of Ha Tinh province area of Vietnam, to Essex Police, along with details of other people claiming to have information.
The BBC also knows of two other Vietnamese nationals who are missing - a 26-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman.
The brother of the 19-year-old said his sister called him at 07:20 Belgian local time (06:20 BST) on Tuesday, saying she was getting into a container and was turning off her phone to avoid detection.
He has not heard from her since.
He said a people smuggler returned money to the family overnight, and the family of the 26-year-old who she was travelling with also received money back.
A spokesman from the Vietnamese Embassy in London confirmed they had been in contact with Essex police since Thursday.
They said Vietnamese families had appealed to them for help finding out if their relatives were among the victims but added they had not yet received any official confirmation.
The victims of the trailer were 31 men and eight women and Essex Police initially said they were all believed to be Chinese.
They were found at an industrial estate in Grays at 01:40 BST on Wednesday.
At a press conference on Friday evening Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said the force was working with the National Crime Agency, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement.
She said she would not be drawn on any further detail about the nationalities of the victims until formal identification processes had taken place.
“We gave an initial steer on Thursday on nationality, however, this is now a developing picture,” she said.
Police have confirmed the scene at Waterglade Industrial Estate in Eastern Avenue was closed on Friday.
Essex Police also urged anyone fearing their loved ones may have been in the lorry to get in touch.
“I can’t begin to comprehend what some of you must be going through right now. You have my assurance that Essex Police will be working tirelessly to understand the whole picture to this absolute tragedy,” said Det Ch Con Mills.
She also urged anyone living illegally in the UK who may have information to come forward, without fear of criminal action being taken against them.
GPS data shows the refrigerated container trailer crossed back and forth between the UK and Europe in the days before it was found.
It was leased from the company Global Trailer Rentals on 15 October. The company said it was “entirely unaware that the trailer was to be used in the manner in which it appears to have been”.
Essex Police said the tractor unit (the front part of the lorry) had entered the UK via Holyhead - an Irish Sea port in Wales - on Sunday 20 October, having travelled over from Dublin.
Police believe the tractor unit collected the trailer in Purfleet on the River Thames and left the port shortly after 01:05 on Thursday. Police were called to the industrial park where the bodies were discovered about half an hour later.
Temperatures in refrigerated units can be as low as -25C (-13F). The lorry now is at a secure site in Essex.
A spokesman for the UN International Organization for Migration said the discovery of bodies in Essex did not necessarily indicate a major shift in migration patterns.
“These are the kind of random crimes that occur every day in the world somewhere,” he said. “They get huge attention when they do but they don’t necessarily indicate a big shift in migration or patterns in any place in particular. It’s just the condition of what happens when this many people are engaging this many criminal groups to reach a destination, which of course we deplore.”
Detectives are still questioning the lorry driver, Mo Robinson, of County Armagh in Northern Ireland, on suspicion of murder. He was arrested on Wednesday.
Two other people were also earlier arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
The man and woman, both 38, from Warrington, Cheshire, are also being held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people.
Police officers were seen at the couple’s home address in Warrington, with a police van and two squad cars parked outside.https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/321B/production/_109372821_essex_container_1to5map_640-nc.png
Sources say the GPS data shows it left Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland on 15 October before crossing over to Northern Ireland and then returning south to Dublin
From Dublin, it crossed over to Holyhead in Wales overnight on 16 October
That evening, it travelled to continental Europe from Dover to Calais in France
Between 17 and 22 October, it moved between various cities in Belgium and France, including Dunkirk, Bruges and Lille
On 22 October, it made its final crossing from #Zeebrugge to #Purfleet
*Essex lorry deaths: The Vietnamese risking it all to get to the
An hour’s drive inland from the French coast, a dozen Vietnamese men nurse tea over a smoking campfire, as they wait for a phone call from the man they call “the boss”. An Afghan man, they say, who opens trailers in the lorry-park nearby and shuts them inside.
Duc paid €30,000 ($33,200; £25,000) for a prepaid journey from Vietnam to London - via Russia, Poland, Germany and France. It was organised, he says, by a Vietnamese contact back home.
“I have some Vietnamese friends in UK, who will help me find jobs when I get there,” he told me. “These friends help me get on lorries or container trucks to go across the border.”https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/846D/production/_109410933_2019_10_25_france_migrants_pics2.jpg
Security is much less tight in the nearby lorry park than around the ports further north. But few people here have managed to get past the border controls.
We were told there is a two-tier system in operation here; that those who pay more for their passage to Britain don’t have to chance their luck in the lorries outside, but use this base as a transit camp before being escorted on the final leg of their journey.
A Vietnamese smuggler, interviewed by a French paper several years ago, reportedly described three levels of package. The top level allowed migrants to ride in the lorry cab and sleep in hotels. The lowest level was nicknamed “air”, or more cynically “CO2” - a reference to the lack of air in some trailers.
A local volunteer in the camp told us that they’d seen Vietnamese and British men visiting migrants here in a Mercedes. And that once migrants arrived in the UK, some went to work in cannabis farms, after which all communication stopped.
Duc tells me he needs a job in the UK to pay back the loan for his journey.
“We can do anything,” he says, “construction work, nail bars, restaurants or other jobs.”
A report by one of France’s biggest charities described smugglers telling Vietnamese migrants that refrigerated lorries gave them more chance of avoiding detection, and giving each of them an aluminium bag to put over their heads while passing through scanners at the border.
No one here had heard about the 39 people found dead this week.
This journey is about freedom, one said.
More Vietnamese families fear relatives are among the 39 UK truck victims
Two Vietnamese families have said they are scared relatives may be among the dead. Both of the suspected victims come from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from.
More Vietnamese families came forward Saturday saying their relatives may be among the 39 people found dead in a container truck east of London.
Police initially believed all victims were Chinese but later announced this may not be accurate and that investigations were still a “developing picture.”
At least two Vietnamese families have now said they are worried their relatives, who may have been carrying falsified Chinese passports, are among the dead.
The Vietnamese Embassy in London said Friday it contacted police about a missing woman believed to be one of the dead after a family in Vietnam informed them about their daughter who had been missing since the lorry was found.
The Embassy said it was working with British authorities over the case, Vietnamese media reported.
Up to 10 of the victims may have originally come from Vietnam, according to unconfirmed reports. The BBC reported it had been in contact with six Vietnamese families, all who believe their relatives are among the 39 victims found in Grays, Essex on Wednesday.
Read more: Opinion: It’s time to end human trafficking
’Something unexpected happened’
The father of a 20-year-old Vietnamese man said he is scared his son is among the dead. He told the Associated Press that he had not been able to reach his son Nguyen Dinh Luong since last week.
“He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,” Nguyen Dinh Gia said. “I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t be worry about money, I’ll take care of it.”
Gia said his son left home in Ha Tinh province, central Vietnam, to work in Russia in 2017 then on to Ukraine. He arrived in Germany in April 2019 before making his way to France. He had been living in France illegally since 2018.
The 20-year-old told his family he wanted to go to the United Kingdom (UK), and that he would pay £11,000 (€12,700). Last week, he told his father he wanted to join a group in Paris that was trying to enter England.
Several days ago, his father received a call from a Vietnamese man saying, “Please have some some sympathy, something unexpected happened,” Gia told AFP.
“I fell to the ground when I heard that,” Gia said. “It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead.”
The family said they shared the information with Vietnamese authorities.
Read more: Opinion: EU’s immigration policy is stuck in a rut
’I’m dying because I can’t breathe’
Hoa Nghiem, a human rights activist from Vietnamese civic network, Human Rights Space, said on Friday one of the victims may have been 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My.
Tra My had sent a text message to her mother saying she was struggling to breathe at around the same time as the truck was en route from Belgium to the UK.
“I’m so sorry mom and dad....My journey abroad doesn’t succeed,” she wrote. “Mom, I love you and dad very much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe .... Mom, I’m so sorry,” she said in a message confirmed by her brother Pham Manh Cuong.
Cuong had received a message from his sister on Wednesday saying, “Please try to work hard to pay the debt for mummy, my dear.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing Friday in Beijing that Britain has not officially confirmed the identities or nationalities of the victims. She added that China is also working with Belgium police since the shipping container in which the bodies were found was sent from England to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
“The police said that they were urgently carrying out the verification work and the identities of the victims cannot be confirmed at present,” said Tong Xuejun, a Chinese consular official in London.
Both suspected victims come from the impoverished province of Ha Tinh where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from. Many who try to reach the UK end up working in nail salons or cannabis farms.
Vietnamese woman suspected killed in UK truck disaster
A father has reported to Vietnamese authorities that his 26-year-old daughter may have been one of the 39 found dead in a container truck in England.
#Pham_Van_Thin, of Can Loc District in the central Ha Tinh Province, sent a letter Friday to the People’s Committee of Nghen Town, saying his daughter was likely one of the 39 people found dead in a container truck in the Waterglade Industrial Park, Grays Town.
“My daughter, Pham Thi Tra My, left Vietnam on October 3, 2019, then travelled to China, France and England,” Thin wrote in the letter, which had My’s photo attached. She was described as 1.5 meters tall and weighing around 46 kilograms.
Thin asked the Nghen People’s Committee to verify that he is My’s father, in order to initiate legal procedures to identify and bring his daughter’s body back to Vietnam.
At his home in Nghen Town, Thin’s family members confirmed that he had indeed submitted an application to the authorities to verify that My was missing, but refused to provide further information on her overseas travel.
The Nghen Town People’s Committee has passed on Thin’s letter to the Can Loc District’s Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, which, in turn, will report to authorities with jurisdiction over the matter, said Bui Viet Hung, Vice Chairman of the committee.
“Thin’s family has three children, of which My is the youngest. My had worked overseas in Japan for three years, and only last month completed procedures to go to China,” Hung said.
A senior official of the Ha Tinh Provincial Department of Foreign Affairs, who did not wish to be named, said Friday afternoon that he had received a phone call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department asking to verify the case of a Vietnamese worker from Ha Tinh Province suspected missing in the UK.
The Ha Tinh Provincial Department of Foreign Affairs has contacted authorities of Can Loc District, where a person has allegedly been reported missing, to verify the information.
According to an authorized source, My had used an emigration ring led by a resident of Nghe An Province to go to China. After getting there, she obtained forged Chinese citizenship documents and left for Europe.
One of My’s relatives has reportedly contacted the Vietnamese Association in the U.K., a non-profit organization, to request their assistance in bringing her body home.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, U.K. emergency services discovered the bodies of 38 adults and one teenager, suspected immigrants, after being alerted that there were people in a refrigerated container truck at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex County, east of London.
Staff of the Chinese Embassy in London have arrived at the scene to help police verify whether the victims were Chinese citizens.
Three people, including truck driver, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, the British police said on Friday, the first indication from officials that the deaths were linked to human smuggling.
In 2000, 58 Chinese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Dover, Britain’s busiest port. The authorities said they had asphyxiated in the container, in which cooling and ventilation were switched off.
Traduction et commentaire d’une étudiante de mon master, vietnamienne :
He said: "It is possible that all 39 “Chinese-like-people” who were suffocated in the car in the UK were Vietnamese. Even the majority of them are probably Nghe An-Ha Tinh by participating in a smuggling transfer service. If they send a message to their family, the family will pay about 1 billion VND (35.000£) for the Vietnamese smugglers. If they NEVER text again, it looks like family members get a refund for the deposit. A terrible contract."
The photos are captured in a Facebook group for recruiting and supporting Vietnamese in a foreign country (maybe England, I’m not sure). People are posting information of their relatives who left at the same time with the lorry and didn’t contact anymore. All of them were born in 1999, 2000 and from Ha Tinh, Nghe Anh (2 poor cities in the center of Vietnam). The last photo is a message of a woman saying that she has people in contact with the invesgators and there are already 20 people identified as Vietnamese.
Majority of 39 UK truck victims likely from Vietnam - priest
YEN THANH, Vietnam (Reuters) - The majority of the 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London were likely from Vietnam, a community leader from the rural, rice-growing community where many of the victims are believed to have come from told Reuters on Saturday.
The discovery of the bodies - 38 adults and one teenager - was made on Wednesday after emergency services were alerted to people in a truck container on an industrial site in Grays, about 32km (20 miles) east of central London.
Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been confirmed. Chinese and Vietnamese officials are now both working closely with British police, their respective embassies have said.
Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a catholic priest in the remote town of Yen Thanh in northern-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province, 300km (180 miles) south of Hanoi, said he was liaising with family members of the victims.
“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.
“I’m still collecting contact details for all the victim’s families, and will hold a ceremony to pray for them tonight.”
“This is a catastrophe for our community.”
Nam said families told him they knew relatives were travelling to the UK at the time and had been unable to contact their loved ones.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it had instructed its London embassy to assist British police with the identification of victims.
The ministry did not respond to a request for further comment regarding the nationalities of the dead.
Essex Police declined to elaborate as to how they first identified the dead as Chinese.
In Yen Thanh, Nghe An province, dozens of worried relatives of 19-year-old Bui Thi Nhung gathered in the family’s small courtyard home where her worried mother has been unable to rise from her bed.
“She said she was in France and on the way to the UK, where she has friends and relatives,” said Nhung’s cousin, Hoang Thi Linh.
“We are waiting and hoping it’s not her among the victims, but it’s very likely. We pray for her everyday. There were two people from my village travelling in that group”.
In comments under a photo uploaded to Nhung’s Facebook account on Monday, two days before the doomed truck was discovered, one friend asked how her journey was going.
“Not good,” Nhung replied. “Almost spring,” she said, using a term in Vietnamese meaning she had almost reached her destination.
Other photos on her account show her sightseeing in Brussels on Oct. 18.
“Such a beautiful day,” Nhung posted.
Nghe An is one of Vietnam’s poorest provinces, and home to many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe, according to a March report by the Pacific Links Foundation, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking organisation.
Other victims are believed to come from the neighbouring province of Ha Tinh, Nam said, where in the first eight months of this year, 41,790 people left looking for work elsewhere, including overseas, according to state media.
The province was ravaged by one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters in 2016 when a steel mill owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics contaminated coastal waters, devastating local fishing and tourism industries and sparking widespread protests.
Another suspected victim from Ha Tinh, 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My, had sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain.
“That girl who said in her message that she couldn’t breathe in the truck? Her parents can’t breathe here at home,” Nam said.
« Désolée maman, je suis en train de mourir, je ne peux plus respirer » : les SMS déchirants d’une jeune victime à l’agonie dans le camion de l’Essex
La jeune vietnamienne Pham Thi Tra My, 26 ans, avait parcouru la Chine puis la France dans ses tentatives pour atteindre la Grande Bretagne. Son périple se terminera dans le camion de Mo Robinson, comme celui de 38 autres ressortissants asiatiques.
UK police: man arrested in Ireland is of interest in truck death investigation
British police said a man arrested in Dublin on Saturday is a person of interest in their investigation into the deaths of 39 people who were found in a truck container.
“A man arrested by the Garda at Dublin Port on Saturday 26 October is a person of interest in our murder investigation regarding the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Purfleet on Wednesday 23 October,” Essex Police said.
The 39 people who died in the lorry were victims. Why does the law treat them as criminals?
As long as the justice system is focused on immigration status, not on ending modern-day slavery, desperate people will suffer.
What leads someone down the route where they find themselves locked into the back of a lorry, a beating heart in a metal box? What choices – or lack of them – have led someone to be reduced to a piece of human cargo? Can anyone who read the story of the 39 bodies found in the back of a lorry last week not feel the visceral terror of that cold, dark death and wonder at how we live in a world where a business model exists that thrives off this level of human desperation?
At the moment it is unclear whether this tragedy is the work of smuggling gangs – who are in a transactional arrangement with the people they are moving from place to place – or human traffickers, who are exploiting and profiting from their human cargo. In the end, does it even matter? Both are looking to profit from the very human desire to not only survive but to thrive. Across the world, trafficking and smuggling gangs are flogging promises and dreams and then using fear – of pain, of the authorities, of their debts, of their failure – to make vast amounts of money in the knowledge that they’re unlikely to get caught, and in the certainty that their victims are expendable.
One Vietnamese teenager I interviewed last year had, like last week’s victims, crossed the Channel in the back of a lorry. He described the experience to me: the pain of the jolting metal that tore into his skin; the stench of other silent bodies he was pressed up against; the poisonous diesel fumes; and the hunger and thirst that gnawed at his insides.
His journey towards that point had begun with a childhood of crippling and monotonous poverty and the belief that the only way to escape and honour his filial responsibility to provide for his parents was to follow the promise of work in the UK. He embarked on an overland journey across Europe where he was smuggled from safe house to safe house, fell under the control of criminal gangs and was raped, beaten and brutalised. By the time he reached France, he was told he had to pay back £20,000 – an amount he couldn’t even comprehend. His parents would be the ones who would suffer if he didn’t pay them back.
By his point his life was not in his hands. A chain of events had been set in motion that he had no control over. There was no way back: his only future was one where his sole reason for survival was to pay off his debts. He ended up being trafficked into a cannabis farm in Derbyshire.
In the eyes of the law there is a distinction between illegal work and modern slavery – with the former you are a criminal, and the latter a victim – but in reality the line is not so clearly defined. Many who are here to work move between the two. Across the UK, thousands end up being exploited and unpaid in our restaurants, car washes, agricultural fields, care homes, hotels and nail bars – visible but unseen.
Official statistics say up to 15,000 people are trapped in a form of modern slavery in the UK – although those working on the frontline believe this figure to be a huge underestimate. Our government says that with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act it is a global leader in cracking down on this practice, yet prosecutions remain low. In 2017-18 there were only 185 convictions for slavery and trafficking crimes – a fraction of the cases reported to the authorities.
Crucially, prosecutions require victims to come forward and testify. Yet their immigration status is often considered more of a priority than their exploitation. Traffickers tell their victims if they go to the police they will be arrested and detained, and more often than not they’re right. Recent research found over 500 victims of trafficking were arrested and sent to immigration detention centres last year. Even though police guidance tells officers how to identify cases of modern slavery, Vietnamese children found in nail bars or cannabis farms are still routinely arrested, charged and detained.
Even those who are recognised as victims of trafficking by the authorities are in for a rough ride. The government’s national referral mechanism, the framework for identifying and protecting victims of slavery, is sometimes considered by victims to be as traumatising as their trafficking. They can find themselves trapped in a legal limbo in a complex and under-resourced system for years at a time. And in the end victims are probably going to be removed back to the country where they were trafficked: according to the government’s own figures only 12% of victims of slavery are granted discretionary leave to remain.
All of this matters because it creates an environment in which the business of exploiting the desperation of human beings can thrive. Where the gangs know that British people will pay £8 in cash for a pedicure, or to get our car hand washed, without thinking too much about why. It’s a business model where people can be exploited for profit over and over again with the near certainty that in the end it will be the victim who the system comes down upon, for making the journey in the first place.
In 2004 the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay was a moment of reckoning – a human tragedy that, for many people, raised the spectre of modern slavery in the UK for the first time. Today, 15 years later, maybe these 39 deaths might do the same and remind us that our only chance of beating the business in flogging human lives is to try to understand how people come to be locked inside the backs of lorries in the first place.
Des news, liens reçus via la mailing-list Migreurop:
Pour l’instant, l’identification de victimes vietnamiennes n’est toujours pas confirmée, bien que très probable. J’ajoute donc d’autres articles de presse à ceux déjà transmis :
En anglais :
En français :
En vietnamien (google translate fonctionne bien), deux articles très complets sur des témoignages de Vietnamiens en Europe :
En route vers le Royaume-Uni, enquête de terrain auprès des migrants vietnamiens
#France_terre_d'asile a réalisé une enquête de terrain auprès des migrants vietnamiens en transit dans le département du Pas-de-Calais, dans le cadre du projet d’aide aux victimes de traite des êtres humains mené par l’association.
L’étude analyse les parcours migratoires de ces migrants, les raisons de leur départ, leurs profils, leurs relations avec les réseaux de passeurs, les moyens d’emprise et de coercition exercés sur eux et leurs besoins afin d’améliorer leur accompagnement en France et en Europe.
Precarious journeys: Mapping vulnerabilities of victims of trafficking from Vietnam to Europe
New research by ECPAT UK, Anti-Slavery International and Pacific Links Foundation traces the journeys made by Vietnamese children and adults migrating irregularly from Vietnam to the UK via Europe. The report, Precarious Journeys: Mapping Vulnerabilities of Victims of Trafficking from Vietnam to Europe, finds that the governments of countries on key trafficking routes routinely fail to protect Vietnamese children from trafficking, leaving them vulnerable to continued exploitation and abuse.
Combating modern slavery experienced by Vietnamese nationals en route to, and within, the UK
Vietnamese migrants are not ‘lured’ by traffickers. They just want a better future
The risks are known and won’t deter people. There will be more deaths in lorries unless Britain changes its immigration policy.
Thirty-nine bodies found in the back of a refrigerated lorry in an Essex industrial park. Apart from shock and rage, this tragic news feels like deja vu. Almost two decades ago, in 2000, 58 Chinese people were found suffocated to death in Dover, in similar horrific circumstances. Those men and women banged on doors and screamed for their lives, the only two survivors revealed. The tragic deaths left families behind and communities back in Fujian province devastated.
Today, many of the 39 people, eight women and 31 men, are believed to have come from Vietnam, as families there desperately look for their missing loved ones.
The 39 people who died in the lorry were victims. Why does the law treat them as criminals?
I also felt deja vu listening to the response from British politicians and media. “Stop evil human traffickers”; “Stop international criminal networks”. I heard such phrases two decades ago from the home secretary, Jack Straw, and today his successor, Priti Patel, repeats the sentiment. While formal identification of the victims continues, Vietnamese people have mostly been portrayed as “unaware” trafficking victims sent to fill the nail bars and cannabis factories – as having no agency of their own and no control over their migratory decisions.
In reality, the Vietnamese young men and women who choose to travel on these dangerous routes only do so when they cannot come to Britain in formal ways. Having no alternatives, they contact “snakeheads” (smugglers), who are often perceived as “migration brokers” rather than criminals, who organise their transportation to Britain.
It appears that many of the 39 people may have come from the Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces of Vietnam, which have been hit by economic reforms. Three decades ago, in 1986, the Vietnamese government launched the Doi Moi economic reforms, which aimed to facilitate a transition from a centralised planning to a “socialist-oriented” market economy. From the 1990s onwards, the government boasted of Vietnam’s rise in GDP – what was not said was that the growth was built upon the low-cost labour of millions of Vietnamese, toiling in processing factories and assembling products for overseas companies. The inflow of foreign investment has been a big part of Vietnam’s economic liberalisation. In recent years, it has brought cash to the high-tech processing, manufacturing, agriculture, education and healthcare sectors. Since the start of this year, Vietnam has attracted foreign direct investment of more than $1.1bn (£850m), China alone bringing in $222m.
Many of these changes have not been popular: large waves of anti-China protests happened in May 2014, in Ha Tinh and other places. And in 2018 there was popular opposition to legislation enabling special economic zones to grant land leases to foreign businesses for up to 99 years.
In 2016 Ha Tinh was also the site of the country’s worst environmental disaster, caused by a chemical spill from a steel factory, owned by a Taiwanese company, Formosa Plastics, that poisoned up to 125 miles of the northern coastline and ruined the fishing industry. Formosa Plastics was fined $500m by the Vietnamese government, but much of the compensation did not reach the affected fishermen.
The low labour cost in these provinces is the main attraction for Chinese and other foreign investors. For instance, a factory worker here earns around two-thirds of what a similar worker earns in China, and half the local population are under the age of 30.
Rather than wealth, foreign investment has brought mainly dead-end, low-paid jobs with few long-term prospects for young locals. The average wage in Vietnam is around $150 a month; in these provinces many don’t even earn that. Besides, unemployment is severe. Last year, GDP per capita in both Nhge An ($1,600) and Ha Tinh ($2,200) fell below the national average of $2,500. This is the context compelling tens of thousands of Vietnamese from these impoverished provinces to choose to migrate, to seek livelihoods for themselves and their families.
Families often depend on sons and daughters to find their way into advanced capitalist countries in the west, to work and be the breadwinners. Remittances from abroad also help sustain communities – Nghe An, for instance, brought in $225m a year, according to official estimates.
The 39 people were not “unthinking migrants” lured by traffickers, as the media has suggested. They were fighting for a future for their families, and lost their precious lives as Britain firmly kept its doors locked shut.
If the tragic deaths of these men and women truly sadden you, the best thing to do is oppose Britain’s anti-migrant policies. We need to dismantle the false categories of “economic migrants” and “genuine refugees”. Let our fellow human beings have the opportunity to live and work in the open – that is the only way forward.
Essex lorry deaths should be wake-up call for ministers, MPs say
Policies focused on closing borders counterproductive, says foreign affairs committee
The deaths of 39 people found in the back of a lorry in Essex should be wake-up call for the government to rethink its approach to migration, MPs have said.
Policies focused on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes and push them into the hands of smugglers, the foreign affairs select committee says in a new report.
The human cost of irregular migration made international partnerships essential, including with the EU, the committee said.
The report comes just over a week after 39 people, now understood to be Vietnamese nationals, were found dead in the back of a lorry that had arrived in the UK via the port of Zeebrugge.
The driver, Maurice Robinson, has been charged with manslaughter and trafficking offences, and a police investigation into a suspected wider trafficking network continues.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the influential committee, said that until the UK left the EU it should continue to attend EU meetings on migration.
“The case of 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex shocked us all. The full story won’t be clear for some time but this tragedy is not alone,” he said.
“Today, hundreds of families across the world are losing loved ones who felt driven to take the fatal gamble to entrust their lives to smugglers. This case should serve as a wake-up call to the Foreign Office and to government.
“The UK has been relatively isolated from the different migrant crises in recent years, but it’s wrong to assume that we are protected from their impact. The UK has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and cooperating with others to protect human rights. We should lead by example.”
The report also raised concern that deals with countries such as Libya, Niger and Sudan to limit migration risked fuelling human rights abuses.
It said such deals could be used as leverage by partner governments, as the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had done recently when he threatened to “reopen the gates”.
The committee also said the fact that the Home Office was responsible for the UK’s response to irregular migration could lead to the “error of focusing on preventing migration to the exclusion of other goals such as preventing conflict and promoting stability and respect for fundamental human rights”.
It called for more effort to negotiate future close cooperation on migration policy with the EU and an immediate return of UK officials to EU-level meetings where irregular migration is discussed.
Other recommendations included the expansion of legal pathways to apply for asylum outside Europe and robust monitoring and safeguards to ensure UK funding for migration programmes in Libya did not contribute to human rights abuses.
Tugendhat said the committee’s inquiry had been cut short by the “uncertain nature of parliamentary business”, but that it hoped to return to the issues in the future.
Irregular migration is defined by the International Organization for Migration as the “movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the state of origin, transit or destination”.
France: Dozens of migrants found in back of truck near Italian border
The truck had been carrying 31 people, reportedly from Pakistan, when it was inspected by authorities in southern France. The latest discovery comes after dozens of migrants were found dead in a truck near London.
Officers carrying out a routine traffic check in southern France uncovered dozens of migrants in the back of a truck on Saturday, the public prosecutor’s office in Nice said.
Some 31 people, including three unaccompanied minors, were found in the truck during a vehicle spot-check at a toll booth near La Turbie, near the border with Italy.
Prosecutors said that all 31 people on board were Pakistani nationals. The driver of the truck, who is also from Pakistan, was arrested by French authorities.
The migrants were handed over to Italian authorities, the Nice-Matin newspaper reported.
Prosecutors will now try to determine whether a human smuggling ring is behind the operation. Should that prove not to be the case, the driver of the truck will be charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration, news agency AFP reported.
Concerns after UK migrant truck deaths
The discovery comes just days after French authorities in the northern port city of Calais pulled over a refrigerated truck carrying eight migrants. All those inside the truck, including four children, were taken to the hospital after exhibiting signs of hypothermia.
Border control agencies have been on high alert following the deaths of 39 migrants in the UK on October 23.
The migrants, who were determined to be Vietnamese nationals, had also been transported in a refrigerated truck when the vehicle was found east of London.
The alleged driver of the truck, a 25-year-old from Northern Ireland, has already been charged over the deaths. He faces 39 counts of manslaughter as well as human trafficking and immigration offenses.
#Spare_me_the_tears - Britain would have treated the Vietnamese nationals as criminals if they had not died in the lorry
Had the police found the desperate migrants in the back of the truck they would have been arrested and deportedhttps://inews.co.uk/images-i.jpimedia.uk/imagefetch/https://inews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GettyImages-1178644699.jpg?crop=982:524,smart&width=640#.jpg
I waited a while before writing this column. The deferral was out of respect for the dead, grieving relatives and the shocked Essex officers who discovered the bodies.
But now it is time for uncomfortable, troublesome, questions: What if those thirty nine Vietnamese migrants found in the back of truck had been discovered still alive?
Would the tabloids have published those tender pictures of young victims, smiling, buoyant, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, fathers and mothers?https://inews.co.uk/images-i.jpimedia.uk/imagefetch/https://inews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GettyImages-1178633598-760x507.jpg?&width=640#.jpg
Would Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have been as compassionate as they have been?
Would nationalist Brits have held back from their usual bellyaches about ‘uncontrolled migration’? Let’s not belabour the obvious. We know the answers.
It is believed that all of those who were found were Vietnamese. On Saturday, around one hundred people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in east London.
The Reverend Simon Nguyen remembered the 39 who were ‘seeking freedom, dignity and happiness’. Such a low attendance is indicative. The victims are only numbers in the current news cycle.
In 2000 when 58 bodies of Chinese migrants were found in the back of a lorry in Dover, some of us journalists and concerned actors such as Corin Redgrave and Frances de la Tour organised a vigil near Downing St. We wanted to remind people that behind the numbers were names, individual, special lives.
Nothing has been learnt since then. One Vietnamese contact tells me her people are now petrified: ‘Police will come to ask us questions maybe. We know nothing. We are the children of the boat people. Mrs Thatcher asked them to come during the war. Now we are afraid again’.https://inews.co.uk/images-i.jpimedia.uk/imagefetch/https://inews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GettyImages-1178633601-760x507.jpg?&width=640#.jpg
Thatcher did indeed invite these migrants to settle in Britain and made sure that the tabloids ran their arrival as a good news story. It was a strategic move, her way of winning the PR battle against Vietnamese communists.
The refugees were welcomed and helped to settle. That was the only time I praised the iron lady. No Tory PM would dare to be that bold today.
In the UK, Australia, the US, many eastern European and EU nations too, most citizens and politicians feel for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants only when they perish at sea or in airless, light-less vehicles.
Alive they are a pestilence, dead they become pitiful innocents preyed on by traffickers. There are of course kind and generous people too, who do what they can, for the global wanderers desperately seeking a better life. But millions of others can only raise sympathy for bodies and really get exercised about the crimes, not the victims.
Journalists, politicians and commentators are now well into the whodunnit, madly exhilarating murder mystery, identifying the traffickers, the arrests and extraditions. They are sniffing around for other ploys that could be being used by criminal people smugglers.https://inews.co.uk/images-i.jpimedia.uk/imagefetch/https://inews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GettyImages-1178644716-760x507.jpg?&width=640#.jpg
A Times investigation this week revealed that at least 15 pupils from Vietnam had vanished after enrolling at private schools. Apparently, this is something that the Human Trafficking Foundation is worried about too.
It fell upon Catherine Baker, the senior campaigns officer at Every Child Protected Against Trafficking to challenge the narrative: ‘ Victims are often criminalised instead of being protected and a hostile environment for people in the UK without immigration status makes those still trapped in exploitative situations nervous to seek help’.
Mercy is in short supply at the Home Office and Ms Patel, utterly benighted and scarily ideological, wants officials to get even tougher because she thinks suffering helps to deter others.
Charities are raising concerns about some devious new tactics being used by the Home office to catch and repatriate undocumented men and women.
Rapar, a Manchester based human rights charity has just discovered that minority community groups are being co-opted and paid thousands of pounds to help find and expel illegal migrants.
Fizza Qureshi, co-chief executive of the Migrants Rights Networks rightly warns that ‘these kinds of practices destroy trust within and between communities. It will leave many marginalised people wondering who they can turn to and trust in their time of need’.
Had the police found the distressed 39 in the back of the truck before they expired, they would all have been treated as criminals, interrogated, detained in abominable centres and sent back.
Few legal options are available to them. People will keep on trying and these inconvenient truths will continue to be avoided by Britain and other receiving nations.
And so the tragedies will go on.
Grieve the Essex 39, but recognise the root causes
In the wake of the deaths of 39 migrants in a lorry container, daikon*’s Kay Stephens writes on the global structures of capitalism and imperialism and the deadly border regimes that led to their deaths.
On 24 October, daikon*, a group of anti-racist creatives of east and south east Asian descent, organised a vigil outside the Home Office with SOAS Detainee Support and members of the Chinese community to grieve for the 39 people found dead in a truck container in Essex – 39 people who died horrific deaths in miserable conditions in a desperate attempt to reach the UK.
These deaths are no accident, but the direct result of global structures of capitalism and imperialism that marginalise, if not violently exclude, working-class undocumented migrants and people of colour. The mainstream’s response – calling for harsher borders, criminal justice for ‘greedy and unscrupulous’ traffickers and safe passage for ‘genuine’ refugees –fails to interrogate the global conditions that lead people to risk dangerous travel, and the deadly effects of border controls on all migrants.
The global context
Although initially identified as Chinese nationals, news is emerging that the majority of victims were from the neighbouring Vietnamese provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh, both amongst the poorest regions in the country. In 2016, Hà Tĩnh suffered a water pollution disaster affecting over 200km of coastline, resulting in at least 70 tonnes of dead fish washing up on local shores. It was found that the Hà Tĩnh steel plant – a joint venture between the Taiwanese company Formosa, China Steel Corporation and Japan’s JFE Steel – had been discharging toxic waste into the ocean, devastating local marine life and directly affecting some 40,000 workers who relied on fishing and tourism for their livelihood. The affected communities have faced crackdowns on protest and are still seeking justice. Today, the region is a key site of people-smuggling to the UK.
We can see neo-colonial dynamics playing out here. Big corporations from richer countries come in to exploit resources and low labour costs to produce wealth for themselves. When they cut corners to maximise profit, local working-class communities bear the brunt of the fallout, often in the form of irreparable environmental damage. These same countries then benefit from a hyper-exploitable migrant workforce: Taiwan and Japan, for instance, are on the receiving end of Vietnamese labour export programmes. These are effectively systems of debt servitude, whereby migrants work long hours for low pay in often poor conditions in order to send remittances to support their families back home, on top of repaying debts incurred to obtain work abroad. In Taiwan, low wages and rampant abuse drive many workers to break away from their contracts and seek criminalised forms of work. In Japan, Vietnamese workers commonly report experiences of racism and social exclusion, with many even dying of overwork.
This year, we also saw the inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) style mechanism in EU-Vietnam trade deals. This effectively gives foreign investors the power to sue host governments when their court rulings, laws and regulations – many of which serve the public interest – undermine their investments. Globally, ISDS has been used by corporations to sue governments when hard-won social and environmental protections negatively impact their production and profits. Currently, two British oil firms are using ISDS to sue the Vietnamese government to avoid paying taxes in the country. With the EU-Vietnam trade deal, we can expect European corporations to continue to exploit this mechanism at the expense of the local environment and people, who may increasingly seek to build their lives elsewhere.
The UK response
It is in this context that smuggling networks develop and operate. Those seeking the prospect of a better life abroad may hire the services of smugglers who facilitate illegalised movement across borders. Many will incur debts to finance their journeys, and expect to undertake difficult work upon arrival at their destination. One response of the UK Home Office is to support IOM (International Organization for Migration) Vietnam, both in delivering propaganda campaigns that attempt to deter people from illegalised migration, and in criminal investigations aimed at prosecuting smugglers and traffickers – policies that do nothing to address the conditions that lead people to migrate. Politicians and commentators are also insisting that to avoid tragedies like the Essex 39, we need increased border security and continued collaboration with EU law enforcement and anti-trafficking units. Yet we have witnessed the prosecution of aid workers helping migrants to safety under EU trafficking laws, and there are countless reports of police brutality against migrants in EU border enforcement operations. In reality, tougher borders only lead migrants and smugglers to risk increasingly deadly and secretive migration routes in order to evade detection by improved security technology. Securitised responses also shift the smuggling industry away from community-based networks towards increasingly violent and highly organised criminal networks that are able to maximally exploit migrants’ vulnerability to increase their profit margins. In short, borders kill. If we want to prevent migrant deaths, we need to work towards the abolition of borders, starting with practical solidarity resisting borders in public life and our communities – refusing complicity in the hostile environment, visiting people in detention, and resisting immigration raids.
The impact of criminalisation
We should also be concerned about how an increased emphasis on anti-trafficking legislation may further endanger precarious migrant workers in the UK. In 2016, we saw ‘anti-trafficking’ police raids on massage parlours in Soho and Chinatown lead to the violent arrest of many migrant sex workers on immigration grounds. Whilst ostensibly aimed at addressing exploitation, these kinds of ‘rescue’ raids on brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms are basically indistinguishable from immigration raids, leading as they often do to the detention of migrant workers, who then either face deportation or a protracted legal battle to remain. Often underlying such operations are gendered and racialised assumptions of Asian migrant women as passive and helpless victims in need of rescue, and Asian men as unscrupulous and predatory traffickers, who control and exploit those helpless victims. The reality is that in the context of border regimes that push them into debt and underground economies, many migrants make a constrained choice to work under conditions that are to varying degrees exploitative or abusive in order to pay off debts to smugglers, send money to dependants, and indeed, to survive. The fact that the British state does not guarantee indefinite leave to remain, nor adequate social support to those it identifies as survivors of trafficking shows its fundamental failure to grasp the central role that borders and capitalism, rather than individual traffickers, play in producing conditions for exploitation and abuse.
Whatever their circumstances, we need to ensure migrants are able to assert labour rights and access safe housing, work, healthcare and other public, legal and social services – all without fear of immigration sanctions or criminal convictions. At a minimum, this means ending the ‘hostile environment’ which embeds immigration checks throughout public life, and decriminalising industries such as sex work whose criminalisation only pushes undocumented workers deeper into secrecy and silence.
As heart-breaking stories of victims continue to emerge, we must recognise that such deaths are an inevitability of the neo-colonial, securitised regimes being built globally, designed to marginalise working-class migrants and people of colour, who are rendered exploitable or disposable. Systemic analyses that centre anti-capitalism, no borders, building migrant workers’ rights globally, and the decriminalisation of sex work are not distractions but central to bringing an end to senseless deaths such as those of the Essex 39.
Lorry driver pleads guilty over role in Essex deaths
#Maurice_Robinson, 25, admits plotting to assist illegal immigration
A lorry driver charged with the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in a refrigerated trailer has pleaded guilty to plotting to assist illegal immigration.
Maurice Robinson, 25, who is known as Mo, was allegedly part of a global smuggling ring. He was arrested shortly after the bodies of eight females and 31 males were found in a trailer attached to his Scania cab in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, on 23 October.
The victims were identified later as Vietnamese nationals, with the youngest being two boys aged 15.
Robinson appeared at the Old Bailey in London via video link from Belmarsh prison for a plea hearing. He spoke to confirm his identity and British nationality.
Robinson admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019. The charge states that he plotted with others to do “an act or series of acts which facilitated the commission of a breach of immigration law by various persons”.
During the hearing before Mr Justice Edis, Robinson also admitted acquiring criminal property – namely cash – on the same dates. He was not asked to enter pleas to other charges, including 39 counts of manslaughter.
Police formally identified all 39 victims this month and informed their families. It has emerged, however, that relatives of the migrants found dead were told that neither the British nor Vietnamese governments would bear the costs of repatriating the bodies.
Police in Vietnam have arrested eight people suspected of being part of a ring responsible for smuggling Vietnamese people to Britain.
Essex police have launched extradition proceedings to bring Eamonn Harrison, 22, from Ireland to the UK. He appeared at Dublin’s central criminal court last Thursday after he was arrested on a European arrest warrant in respect of 39 counts of manslaughter, one count of a human trafficking offence and one count of assisting unlawful immigration.
Harrison is accused of driving the lorry with the refrigerated container to Zeebrugge in Belgium before it was collected in Essex by Robinson.
Robinson was remanded into custody until a further hearing on 13 December.
Don’t call the Essex 39 a ‘tragedy’
Jun Pang on why the deaths of 39 undocumented migrants were entirely avoidable, and why borders are to blame.
On 23 October, 39 people were found dead in the back refrigerated lorry in Essex, South East England, with media outlets reporting that the victims may have frozen to death in temperatures as low as -25°C.
The truck had crossed The Channel from Belgium, a route that has been used increasingly by migrants after the French government tightened restrictions on departures from Calais.
These 39 deaths were not a ‘tragedy’. They were not unavoidable. They were the direct result of British government policies that have made it impossible to enter the country using safe and legal means.
The conditions that produced these 39 deaths emerge from the same set of policies that deny asylum, justify indefinite immigration detention, charter deportation flights, and restrict migrants’ access to fundamental rights – that is, the so-called ‘Hostile Environment’.
The aim is to make the UK so inhospitable for migrants that they will not make the effort to try to enter. They are also the conditions that allow the Global North to continue to thrive off the exploitation of undocumented migrant workers.
‘The brutality of capitalism’
When I first heard of the deaths, I was reminded of the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster, when 23 undocumented Chinese workers drowned while picking cockles off the Lancashire coast. These workers did not die of ‘natural causes’, they died because their gangmaster did not give them any information about how to work safely in the notoriously dangerous bay. He was willing to sacrifice these undocumented workers’ lives for the sake of a higher yield.
Chinese workers were described by one gangmaster as ‘a half-price... more punctual and productive workforce’. Did their employers imagine that Chinese people’s racialized ‘productivity’ somehow meant that they were also immune to the elements? One Morecambe Bay cockler later told journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai (who later wrote a book about Chinese migrant workers’ lives in the UK) that ‘he blamed the brutality of capitalism for the tragedy’.
At the end of 2018, China was one of the countries with the highest numbers of citizens in UK detention centres. Earlier this year, I visited a Chinese man in detention, who had come to the UK with the help of so-called ‘snakehead’ smugglers, who are often blamed for the deaths of undocumented migrants like the Essex 39. The man had fled to the UK for fear that he would be killed; he did not know how else he could enter.
The Home Office rejected his refugee application, detained him for more than a year (despite bundles of evidence from experts on his situation) and ended up deporting him – but not before first mistakenly deporting another man with the same surname.
One of the most heartbreaking things he had said to me was that he would rather work for £1 an hour in the detention centre for the rest of his life, than go home and face persecution.
Hierarchy of ‘desert’
It is not useful to speculate on the reasons why these 39 Vietnamese nationals decided to try to enter the UK. More important is to recognize that the UK border has long been a site of racialized, classed, and gendered violence for all migrants, regardless of the reasons for entering. In 1998, the New Labour government published ‘Fairer, Faster, and Firmer – A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum’, a White Paper which warned that ‘economic migrants will exploit whatever route offers the best chance of entering or remaining within the UK’. Two years later, in 2000, 58 Chinese nationals were found dead, having suffocated in the back of a lorry at Dover docks.
States often attempt to distinguish ‘economic migrants’ from ‘real refugees’ as a way to restrict legal entry at the border. Such categorization creates an arbitrary hierarchy of entitlement to international protection, absent of any consideration of the unequal distribution of resources across the Global North and Global South that often makes seeking employment overseas the only way that some people – and their families – can survive.
In theory, this hierarchy of ‘desert’ is illegitimate because human rights violations, including deprivation of socioeconomic rights, are not subject to ranking. In practice, the hierarchy also fails to give ‘priority’ to ‘real refugees’ due to the culture of disbelief around asylum applications. So migrants are forced to rely on smugglers to gain entry.
Smugglers facilitate the entry of migrants through different pathways. This entails significant risks, as states establish stronger barriers to entry, including visa restrictions, carrier sanctions, and interceptions at sea. The journeys do not stop; the conditions simply become more and more deadly.
Smuggling is different to trafficking, which is the forced movement of a person for the purpose of exploitation, including labour and sexual exploitation. Anti-trafficking policies, however, are often criticized for failing to protect, and sometimes causing direct harm to, undocumented migrants. In the UK survivors of trafficking are detained and in some cases deported; even after being recognized as survivors, they often do not receive adequate social support.
Part of the ‘anti-trafficking’ movement is also rooted in an anti-sex work politics that conflates sex work with sexual exploitation. This perspective presents all migrant sex workers as ‘victims’ requiring ‘saving’. In the end, this only pushes migrant sex workers into more insecure working conditions, subjecting them to the threat of arrest, detention, and deportation.
States often conflate smuggling and trafficking to introduce blanket restrictions on entry and to criminalize particular forms of work in order to eject unwanted migrants. But blaming migrants’ deaths on smugglers and traffickers does nothing but mask the structures of racism and capitalism that both restrict the movement of, and exploit, undocumented workers.
We do not at the time of writing know if the 39 people in the back of the lorry were hoping to come to the UK as workers; or whether they were being trafficked into labour exploitation. But the objectification of their ‘bodies’ reminded me of the way that migrants are only useful until they are not; and then, they are, quite literally, disposable.
A man is being questioned in connection with the murder of the Essex 39; but the blood is ultimately on the hands of the British state, and the global system of borders that entrenches exploitative and deadly relations of power.
Remember the dead
Justice for the living
"Pray for Me"
In October 2019, British police discovered a truck with 39 dead bodies. All from Vietnam. Who were they? How did they get there? The story of twins, one of whom died.
The father is sitting hunched over at the table, a lanky, 50-year-old farmer with leathery skin and hair that is more gray than it is black. It’s late January, the air is warm and dry. Light filters in through the grated window, as do sounds: the crowing of a rooster, the lowing of a cow. The father wipes his nose on his sleeve and takes another drag from his cigarette. There have been a great number of cigarettes since the large, white altar appeared in the house entry bearing the photo of a smiling, 19-year-old girl in a white blouse and a red-and-gold scarf draped around her neck. Her name was Mai. She was his daughter.
An acquaintance drops by, reaches for a stick of incense from the tray next to the altar, lights it and mumbles an Our Father. “Ah! You!” says the father in greeting and pours a glass of green tea. The guest sits down and says what everyone has been saying these days.
“Mai was such a good girl. It must be so deeply painful.”
“I wish for you and your family that you may one day overcome this pain.”
“May God help you.”
The father nods and the visitor puts on his motorcycle helmet and drives off.
The man and his wife cultivate two rice fields in addition to keeping three cows and a dozen chicken behind the house. The mother also distills liquor and the father used to take side jobs in construction – drilling wells or lugging sacks of cement. But since his daughter’s death, he has stopped taking any jobs, and his wife takes care of the fields and the animals on her own.
The father can no longer handle much more than receiving guests dropping by to express their sympathies. Even eating is a challenge.
Mai and her twin sister Lan had a dream: They wanted to get out of Vietnam and head to the West, to America or Europe. Two girls with the same round nose, the same high forehead and the same weakness for flannel shirts and jeans. Two girls who had shared a bed their entire lives, dyed their hair and put on red lipstick like popstars from South Korea. Two girls hoping for a better life.
The father says he understood the dream of his daughters. Here, in the countryside of central Vietnam, all the young people want to leave. But in the big cities of Vietnam, they are ridiculed as rubes with a funny accent, so they head overseas. His brother’s children are living in America; he has cousins in South Korea. Classmates of his daughters have made their way to Japan, Germany and England.
After finishing school, Mai and Lan applied to two American universities, but they were rejected. Then, a cousin put them in touch with a man from a neighboring village who was now living overseas. A smuggler.
The father was worried. He had heard how dangerous it could be to travel to the West illegally, especially for women. On the evening before their departure, he took them aside.
“I won’t let you go,” he said. “I can’t allow it.”
The sisters protested. “If we don’t go now, we might never get away.”
The father relented. When he thinks back to that discussion today, tears run down his face. He reaches for a cigarette.
Mai’s and Lan’s journey to a better life ended in a news report that circled the globe. On 23rd of October 2019, British police officers discovered 39 dead bodies in a container on the back of a truck in the county of Essex east of London. Mai was one of them.
Court documents show that a Northern Irish truck driver had hauled the container through France and Belgium before it was loaded onto a ferry in Zeebrugge for the crossing to England, disguised as a delivery of biscuits. Upon arrival in the port of Purfleet in Essex County, a second driver, also from Northern Ireland, picked up the container at 1:08 a.m. on that October night. A short time later, he turned into an industrial park, where he opened the container door.
According to the London daily Evening Standard, the driver passed out after opening the refrigerator unit and discovering the bodies, although that suggestion remained unverified. The Daily Mail quotes emergency teams who said there were bloodied handprints. At 1:38 a.m., the ambulance was called.
Post-mortem examinations have come to the conclusion that the victims died of suffocation and overheating, likely during the nine-hour crossing to England. The container’s refrigeration system had been switched off.
The two truck drivers and three accomplices are now in custody, with their trial set to begin in Britain this autumn. Eight more suspects have been charged in Vietnam. Investigations into the unlawful migration network are continuing in both countries, but already it seems clear that the authorities have not managed to track down the leaders of the network. Only the foot soldiers will be hauled into court.
Reports of people who die on their way to Europe are usually about migrants from Africa or civil war refugees from the Middle East who drown in the Mediterranean. But the Essex tragedy is different.
All of the 39 people who died were from Vietnam, a country that has been at peace for decades – a place that is popular as a vacation destination and which is growing more prosperous by the year.
Still, the twin sisters Mai and Lan took off on this dangerous journey. What were they hoping for once they arrived in England? And was the container disaster in Essex an isolated case, or was it part of a dangerous migration movement that had managed to stay under the radar until then?
This article was researched over the course of several months. The ZEIT reporters traveled to Vietnam, England and Spain, with much of their reporting taking place long before SARS-CoV-2 arrived in these countries. Like so many other things, the virus has also slowed down irregular migration, and only in the coming weeks will it become clear what is stronger – the pandemic or the desire for millions of people to leave their homeland.
Around 9,900 kilometers from her parents’ home in Vietnam, Lan is sitting in a nail salon in a Spanish city not far from the Mediterranean. To protect their identities, the names of both Lan and her deceased twin sister Mai have been changed for this story, also Lan’s employer will not be identified. Lan, wearing jeans and a black hoodie, is filing a customer’s nails. She has a blue-and-white plaid fabric mask wrapped around her face, as do all of the workers here to protect themselves from the fumes and the fingernail dust. Winter is just coming to an end and the coronavirus has yet to arrive.
Lan bends silently over the left hand belonging to a young Spanish woman with dark brown hair and a cheek piercing, her fingers spread wide. Lan’s workspace is in the back, next to the massage chair with the footbath. On her table is a fan and a clamp-on desk lamp, from which a small electric nail file is hanging. On the wall is a poster of a woman naked from the waist up, her arms crossed to cover her breasts. Next to it are the words “Beauty Nails.”
Spain. Lan is stuck here. The Vietnamese smuggler who organized the sisters’ trip last summer – he’ll be called Long – told them all about the wonders of England. He told them he lived there himself, though it would later turn out that he really lives in Germany.
Mai and Lan didn’t know much about England. They didn’t have a specific idea of the kind of life they wanted to live or the jobs they wanted to have, but they figured they would be granted residency and make lots of money. Then, they would return to Vietnam, get married and have children. That was the plan.
Long, the smuggler, told the girls that the trip he was organizing for them would be almost as comfortable as vacation. They would only have to make a choice regarding the last leg of the journey, from France to England. Would they rather travel in the cab of a truck, in a horse trailer or in a container?
The father chose the truck cab, the safest and most expensive method. The price: 1.1 billion Vietnamese Dong per sister, for a total equal to almost 88,000 euros. To get ahold of that much money, the father decided to take out a loan, with his property and that of his siblings as collateral.
It was a good investment, Long promised. He would take care of everything, including forged passports. And once they arrived in England, he said, one of his contacts would pick up the girls and help them find jobs. Jobs that would lead to a better life.
In the nail studio, Lan stands up from her stool and asks the customer to follow her and the two then sit down at a table near the entrance. The customer spreads her fingers out again and Lan walks over to a shelf where small, colorful bottles of nail polish are lined up. She pulls out two bottles, one white and one clear. The Spanish woman has requested a French manicure: clear nails with white tips.
The nail studio where Lan works is no different from thousands of others just like it in Europe. It is located in a shopping mall with glass entry doors and faux-marble floors. On the ground floor, young shoppers push past H&M while families eat pizza up in the food court. At Beauty Nails, a manicure and pedicure with no polish costs 32 euros. The husbands sit on chairs near the door, fiddling with their smartphones.
What remains invisible from the outside is the world that keeps the business going, the continued arrival of migrants who enter the country illegally. In many Western countries, nail studios are run by the Vietnamese, though the reason is more by chance than by design: In the 1970s, the Hollywood actress Tippi Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California. To help the people there build up new lives for themselves, she set up courses in nail care and even flew in her own manicurist to help teach them. That was how the first Vietnamese began filing and polishing nails for a living. They were so successful, that many of their compatriots followed their example, first in the United States and then in Europe. And they are still expanding the business, with the necessary personnel coming from their former homeland.
Only two of the five Vietnamese who are working in the nail studio on this day have valid residency papers, the boss and his longest-serving employee, both of whom have lived in Spain for a long time. The other three – a young man in his early 20s, a woman of the same age and Lan – are in the country without permission.
It’s not easy to trace the circuitous path the two sisters took on their way to Europe. Lan has only faint memories of the many people and places they encountered, while some of the details regarding the smugglers and their methods cannot be adequately verified. The ZEIT reporters tried to corroborate the stories told by the young woman by looking at passport stamps, pictures and social media posts. They compared Lan’s account with those from the families of other victims and discussed them with migration experts. They have come to the conclusion that Lan’s story is credible.
The Path to the West: Malaysia
The two sisters began their trip in late August of last year at the airport in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, 300 kilometers from their home village. Their mother had stayed home, with Long, the smuggler, insisting that there be no intimate hugs or even tears as the parents bid farewell. He was concerned that such scenes could have attracted the attention of the police. Only their father had joined them on the trip to the airport.
Mai and Lan had two, small trolley cases with them, one brown and the other white, in which they had packed T-shirts, collared shirts and a few articles of warm clothing. They also each had 500 USD and 700 euros in cash. Their plan was to pose as tourists heading off on a trip with their partners. At the terminal, they met two young Vietnamese men who were also on their way to the West. The twins were to fly with the two men to Malaysia. Their father thought they looked decent, and the fact that they were Catholic put his mind at ease.
The sisters left Vietnam with the feeling that a grand adventure lay ahead of them.
At the airport in Kuala Lumpur, the group was received by a Chinese woman, who drove them to a hotel outside of the city. Mai and Lan went out to eat and to have a look around, feeling like a couple of tourists. Later, the Chinese woman returned with red passports, telling the girls that they were to say they were from China from then on.
Mai and Lan learned a few sentences in Chinese from the woman and had to memorize their new names and places of birth. Mai’s new name was “Lili,” but Lan has forgotten hers. “It was so long,” she says.
The very next day, Lan had to continue the journey without her sister, with the smugglers saying that their identical dates of birth threatened to attract unwanted attention.
So, she flew with three or four other Vietnamese and the Chinese woman to the Azerbaijan capital of Baku. There, they boarded a plane bound for Istanbul. When they arrived, Lan presented her Chinese passport. Mai arrived two days later with a different group.
At Beauty Nails, the hum of nail filers competes with the rattling of shopping carts outside in the mall. Every now and then, a customer walks in, triggering a flurry of orders from the boss in Vietnamese and the customer is taken to a free table.
Vietnamese acquaintances of Vietnamese acquaintances helped Lan get the job in the nail studio and she now spends six days a week here, from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with only Sundays off. It’s of no consequence to her whether it is cold and wintery outside or whether the sun warms the colorful building facades as it does on this spring-like Saturday. All Lan sees are broken nails, split nails, torn nails, nails with chipped polish and unpainted nails that are waiting to be filed and painted.
Lan guesses that she serves 20 customers a day, not many compared to the others, she says. She has been working here for more than two months, but she still hasn’t been paid. “It’s like an apprenticeship,” she later says after the workday is over and she can speak freely. “Plus, they take care of my lodging and food.”
Lan lives in a four-room flat on the fifth floor of an apartment building together with eight other Vietnamese, seven men and a woman. She and the other woman share a room in the apartment and sleep in the same bed. The apartment belongs to her boss and everyone who lives here works in one of his two nail studios. Late in the evening, once the workday is over, they cook together.
Lan speaks in short, hesitant sentences, frequently looking away in embarrassment. She says she doesn’t know how long her purported training program will last and she hasn’t yet managed to muster up the courage to ask.
She leaves her own nails unpainted. Polished nails aren’t particularly practical in her line of work, nor does she like the look of colored fingernails. In the first week, her fingers turned red and scaly, but now she washes her hands after every customer and uses lotion, which has helped.
The Path to the West: Turkey
In Istanbul, the sisters stayed in an old hotel. Along with the rooms for normal guests, there were hidden rooms in the basement and in the attic, Lan says, adding that around 30 Vietnamese and 20 people from China were staying in the hotel, migrants passing through. They all contributed money for the shopping and then cooked together in a kitchen in the attic. After just over a week in Turkey, they made their first attempt to leave the country. The smugglers drove them into a forest, but they were taken into custody by the Turkish police and brought to a police station, where they were held for around four hours. The Turks were friendly, Lan recalls. “We even taught them a bit of Vietnamese.”
Back in the city, Lan and the others waited a few days. Then they tried again.
The vehicle was a minivan, designed for seven people, but the seats had been removed and that evening, 27 people crammed inside: Vietnamese, Chinese, Iraqis and Iranians. Mai and Lan had to leave their suitcases back in the hotel and were only allowed to bring along plastic bags with a bit of food and clothing. After about three hours, they again reached the forest, where they proceeded to wait. At around 2 a.m., two Turkish men showed up with two folded up inflatable rafts. The group then walked for around four hours until they reached a river that was just a few meters wide. The Turks pumped up the boats and brought Lan and the others across to the other side. It only took a couple of minutes. And then, they were in Greece.
Nghe An, the home province of the two sisters in Vietnam, is neither particularly rich nor is it extremely poor. The life that Mai and Lan led there was largely confined to just a few square kilometers: There was their parents’ two-story home with its red roof; there was the Catholic church where the family – the twins, their parents and their two younger siblings – would worship; and there were the rice fields everywhere.
Sometimes, their father would drive Mai and Lan to the seaside, a 15-minute trip on the moped. At others, the twins would head out without him, driving around for a couple of hours on their own.
During their excursions, the sisters could see how their region was changing. In many villages, there were hardly any traditional, dark farmhouses with moss covering the walls. Most families have built multi-story homes in recent years, painted in bright colors like lemon yellow or sky blue. Surrounded by banana trees and high fences, stucco-decorated gables jut upward with Greek columns out front and wooden shutters on the windows. Money left over after the homes are complete tends to be spent on air conditioning.
The prosperity here comes from relatives living abroad, as everyone here knows. Mai and Lan were well aware of it too. There is even a term for these people who live somewhere in the West: Viet-Kieu, overseas Vietnamese.
Emigration has long been a feature of life in Vietnam. After communist North Vietnam won the war against the Americans in the mid-1970s and took over South Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of people fled the country in boats and were taken in primarily by France and the U.S. Later, many Vietnamese traveled as contract workers to socialist “brother states,” like the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. More recently, migrant workers have followed, most of them young and from rural areas. People like Mai and Lan.
Today, almost every Vietnamese family has relatives living overseas, who regularly send money back home. According to the World Bank, remittances worth $16.7 billion were sent back to Vietnam from abroad last year, a total that is many times what the country received in official development assistance.
If the mother has to go to the hospital; if the son is to be sent to university; if the grandfather can no longer work: Many Vietnamese families are dependent on money from abroad. Those who earn that money thousands of kilometers away are smiling down from pictures hung in living rooms across the country – proud emigrants posing in front of famous Western tourist attractions like Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate.
What you don’t see in the pictures are the dangers encountered by many of the migrants who have left Vietnam in recent years.
On that October night in the English county of Essex, 31 men and eight women from several central Vietnamese provinces died in the white metal container. The ZEIT reporters were able to speak with the families of 38 of the 39 victims.
Such as the parents of 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My. In the final minutes of her life, she was able to write her parents a text message. But only when the doors of the container were finally opened – long after all its occupants had died – did Tra My’s mobile phone once again find a signal and send her words to her family: “Mom and dad, I’m so sorry (…). I didn’t make it. Mom. I love you both. I’m dying because I can’t breathe (…). Mom, I’m so sorry.”
The dead body of Dang Huu Tuyen, 22, was also lying in the container. His parents had sent him to Laos to make money, but the wages paid at the construction sites there were too low, so Tuyen headed off to Europe. Even now, after the death of his son, Tuyen’s father says heading abroad is the best thing a young man can do.
Tran Hai Loc and his wife Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, also died in the container. In contrast to most parents, they decided to head abroad together to make more money so they could quickly return to their children in Vietnam. In the grandparents’ home, there is now an altar bearing a photo of the couple. The children, two and four years old, sometimes gaze at it uncomprehendingly.
The Path to the West: Greece
On the Greek side of the border, Lan says, they saw bushes with white tufts on them. Cotton. They reached a clearing that looked as though someone had just been camping there and the Turkish smugglers spread out a blanket for them to sit on.
The smugglers told the group they had to wait in the clearing until evening and that they had to stay as quiet as possible because of the possibility of police roaming through the forest. It was a chilly evening, Lan recalls, and Mai was shivering because she had left her warm clothing back at the hotel. They passed Lan’s jacket back and forth and embraced to keep warm. At around 7 p.m., they headed off again and kept going until midnight, when they stopped. The smugglers passed out bags of food and drinks, then they all stretched out on the ground and went to sleep.
When they woke up, they were picked up by a truck that had been modified for its very specific purpose. From the outside, Lan recalls, it looked just like a normal truck, with a cab up front and a large container in the back. But there was actually a hidden compartment, reachable through a metal hatch underneath. “We had to crawl under the truck so that we could climb in,” Lan says.
Around four hours later, they had to climb back out of the truck on a country road. From here, the smugglers said, it’s about 10 kilometers to the train station, and the group set out on foot. The Vietnamese, says Lan, stopped at a small bistro they passed for a bite to eat and they asked someone to call a taxi for them. The Chinese, though, she says, walked the entire way and were exhausted when they arrived.
“We Vietnamese,” Lan says, “are very smart.”
They took the train to Athens and separated into smaller groups, with the twins staying together with the two young Vietnamese men with whom they had flown to Malaysia. An accomplice of their smuggler picked them up at the train station in Athens and brought them to his apartment. Here, they had to wait two or three weeks until their new forged passports were ready, this time from China and South Korea.
It was a pleasant time for Mai and Lan. Mai posted a picture to her Facebook page showing the girls in front of the Academy of Athens, the setting sun shining on the building’s white columns and the twins smiling in each other’s arms. They were wearing T-shirts and jeans, both with belt bags slung over their shoulders. “This is the life,” Mai wrote, including a smiley.
It’s Sunday, Lan’s day off, and she wants to head out to the beach for the first time since arriving in Spain. Lan has lived in this city for several months, but still lives the life of a stranger. The language, the food, the streets, the buildings – none of it is familiar to her.
In the old city center, she climbs into a green-and-white electric bus that is so full on this summery spring day that she is only just able to find a seat. The bus drives through a suburb with broad streets and lush palms. Even though the sun is shining outside and it is 20 degrees Celsius, Lan is wearing a woolen roll neck sweater and a black-and-white plaid winter coat.
She begins talking about her apartment and about the eight other Vietnamese she lives with, saying she isn’t particularly interested in speaking or doing much with any of them, aside from church on Sunday, which they sometimes attend together. Her apartment mates offered to celebrate her birthday with her, but she declined. Her birthday reminds her too much of her twin sister, she says.
She gets off the bus at the last stop and follows three young Spaniards carrying a blanket and a ball. They walk past a white casino and a park full of picnicking families. Lan walks up a small embankment until the air begins to smell of salt and the ground gives way to damp sand, the waves splashing onto the shore. The sky is so blue it could have been painted.
“Just like the beach in Vietnam!” Lan yells.
A couple of young people in swimming suits bat a volleyball back and forth. Lan, though, pulls her coat up over her head: Like many Vietnamese women, she finds tanned skin to be ugly.
She stops, sits down in the sand and pulls her knees to her chin. When asked if she would like to return to Vietnam, she says that she regrets not having listened to her father’s warnings. “The price to come here was too high,” she says.
Still, she doesn’t want to give up and go back. Her sister, she believes, would have wanted her to bring her journey to a successful conclusion, making it all the way to England to make enough money to help support her family.
It’s quite possible that Lan would also be working in a nail salon had she made it to England, though some Vietnamese migrants also end up at the illegal cannabis farms there. Experts have compiled reports about young men being locked into buildings for months on end so they can monitor the heat lamps and fertilize and water the plants. The only food that the drug dealers give them are frozen meals they can heat up in the microwave. In many instances, says the British Home Office, these migrants live in a form of “modern slavery.”
It seems likely, in other words, that Lan’s life in England would be no better than the one she has found in Spain. But at least she knows a few people in England who could help her. More than anything, though, Lan seems intent on reaching the goal that she and her sister had set for themselves.
“If I were to return to Vietnam now, I would just be a burden to my parents,” Lan says. “I would have to find a secure, well-paid job. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed my siblings and send them to school.”
In the months following the death of her sister, it seems almost as though Lan has packed up her feelings and set them aside. It’s as though she is bearing her pain just as disciplined as she is bearing her work at the nail salon. In her discussions with ZEIT about her journey and the death of her sister, she only began crying on one single occasion – when she was speaking about Mai dying in the container. “I can actually feel it when I think about her gasping for breath,” she says. “I can feel it with my own body.”
The Path to the West: Separation
In Athens, the smugglers once again wanted Mai to fly onward on her own. Mai resisted, afraid to be without her sister, but Lan reassured her, saying: “Go on ahead.” So, Mai flew to Palermo in Italy, where she looked around in the old town and went to the beach, before then boarding a plane to Spain and then a train to France.
In the meantime, Lan tried to leave Athens with a South Korean passport. She managed to make it through the security check at the airport, but she was detained on the plane. A customs official took her forged passport, leaving Lan to call her parents in tears. “If you have to, go to the police and come home,” her father told her. But after 24 hours, the Greek authorities let her go, though they held onto the fake passport.
A few days later, she spoke with her sister on the phone for the last time. It was the evening of Oct. 21 and Lan was still stuck in Athens. Mai, though, was at a train station in France, waiting for a man who was supposed to bring her to Belgium. From there, her smuggler had told her, she could head onward to England. Mai was thinking about staying in Belgium until Lan caught up with her, but Lan pushed her to keep going. It could be awhile until she got another forged passport, she said.
“Pray for me,” Mai said.
“I’m praying for you,” Lan responded.
That was the last time they spoke. Shortly before the crossing to England, Mai wrote her sister one last time via Facebook.
Oct. 22, 7:48 a.m.: “Lan, I’m leaving at 8.”
8:49 a.m.: “I’m leaving at 9.”
Mai’s father spent that day in Vietnam waiting for his daughter to get in touch after arriving in England. In vain. So, he tried calling her himself. And couldn’t reach her. Her father recalls that Long, the smuggler, tried to reassure him, saying that Mai had arrived safely in England and that he didn’t need to worry and that the father only had to hand over the money and Mai would be picked up and taken to an apartment.
The father tried to believe him and even told Lan. But then, on Oct. 23, news suddenly began spreading in the village. There had been an accident in England. Thirty-nine dead bodies in a truck. All of them Asian.
The father again called the smuggler. Is Mai really in England, he demanded? What about that container? Again, the father says, Long tried to convince him that everything was just fine. Mai had booked the most expensive of the travel options, after all, a seat in the cab. There was room for just two in the cab, not 39.
In the hours that followed, the father says, he paced in the living room like a madman. Only two, not 39 – that thought kept going through his head, he says. He told Lan the same thing. But why wasn’t he able to reach Mai? And why had Long also stopped answering his phone?
Lan says she could also feel that something wasn’t right. She laid in bed without being able to sleep. She says she prayed and read the bible.
Days later, still in the dark about her sister’s fate, Lan flew from Greece to Spain with a forged South Korean passport, the next leg of the journey to England. After her arrival in Spain, Lan again wrote her sister over Facebook.
5:25 p.m.: “Don’t leave me alone.”
“We have to make it to make mom and dad happy.”
5:53 p.m.: “Call me.”
“Try your best to get me to England, too, so that we can see each other again.”
6:53 p.m.: “Call me and I’ll come to you.”
“We have to do all we can for our parents and our family.”
That night, Lan spoke with her mother on the phone. Her mother told her: “Leave your phone camera on so that I can watch over you as you sleep.”
It would take until Nov. 8 until the police in Essex brought an end to their uncertainty and released the names of the 39 people who had suffocated in the back of the truck.
For 40 days, Mai’s body lay in a wooden casket in England, the country where she so badly wanted to live. Then it was flown to Vietnam. On the morning of Dec. 2, 2019, a white ambulance brought the body to Mai’s hometown. Everyone was waiting for its arrival: parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, former classmates, teachers and other members of the community. On videos of that day, you can see villagers crouched on their mopeds with colorful flags. When the ambulance finally arrived, they crowded around its tinted windows and pressed their hands against them – as if they were trying to grasp something that could no longer be grasped.
In the videos, you can also see Mai’s father standing silently to the side. All around him are the sounds of drumming, rattling, mourning and singing, but it looks as though he’s not making a sound. His mouth is open, his face frozen in place as he walks to his home in the middle of the funeral march – losing strength as he goes, until a relative has to pull him for the last few steps through the crowd.
The sun has already set on the beach when Lan’s phone rings and a photo of her father pops up on the screen. “Dad?” she says. “Are you still awake? It’s late over there.”
Lan and her father frequently talk on the phone several times a day. He always asks how she is doing and whether she has eaten. And he tells her she shouldn’t climb into a truck bound for England, and she shouldn’t go anywhere on her own.
On this day, too, Lan’s father had tried to reach her several times, but because she was speaking with a reporter, Lan didn’t want to stop to pick up the phone. He was worried.
“Everything is fine,” she says. “I’m at the beach.”
They talk for a few minutes and then she sets her phone aside. It has grown chilly and Lan has wrapped herself in her coat. Later, she will say that it was her birthday. She is now 20 years old.
She looks out at the sea as though she is looking for a ship to take her to the other side. “A Vietnamese friend who I met in Greece recently called me,” she says. “He’s in England. He crossed over in the truck, in the cab. He says it was quite comfortable.”
At the edge of the village that she had wanted to leave, just a few hundred meters from her childhood home, is Mai’s grave. The air is still, as is the sky. A low cement wall marks the area belonging to Mai’s family. Her grave is set slightly apart from those of her forbears, who lie close together. It’s also bigger, mightier, more admonishing. A small stone covering protects her photo from the sun and rain. The grave is surrounded by white flowers.
Lan receives her first wages at the nail salon after three months: 500 euros in addition to room and board. She is set to earn more money in the months to come: 600, 700, maybe even 1,000 euros. Finally, she will be able to send money home.
But then the pandemic arrives. And Beauty Nails has to close its doors.
A lockdown is imposed across Spain and Lan spends her days in the apartment with the other Vietnamese migrants. She sleeps, she cooks, she eats and she talks to her parents on the phone or exchanges messages with them. But really, she is waiting. Waiting for the country to reawaken so she can go back to fixing and polishing nails. And she is waiting for the borders to reopen so she can finish her journey to England.
Camion charnier en Angleterre : les 13 suspects interpellés en France mis en examen
Les 13 personnes arrêtées mardi en France lors d’un coup de filet lié à l’enquête sur la mort de 39 migrants vietnamiens dans un camion frigorifique en octobre en Grande-Bretagne ont été mises en examen, a-t-on appris samedi de source judiciaire.
Elles ont toutes été mises en examen vendredi pour « traite des êtres humains en bande organisée », « aide à l’entrée ou au séjour en bande organisée » et « association de malfaiteurs ». Six d’entre elles sont également poursuivies pour « homicide involontaire ».
Sur les treize, douze ont été placées en détention provisoire et une sous contrôle judiciaire.
Ces suspects, majoritairement des Vietnamiens et des Français, ont été interpellés mardi en divers lieux de la région parisienne. Au même moment, treize autres personnes ont aussi été arrêtées en Belgique dans le cadre d’une opération de police internationale, coordonnée par l’organisme de coopération judiciaire Eurojust.
En Belgique, 11 personnes ont été écrouées après leur inculpation pour « trafic d’êtres humains avec circonstances aggravantes, appartenance à une organisation criminelle et faux et usages de faux », selon le parquet fédéral belge. Deux autres, inculpées des mêmes chefs, ont été remises en liberté.
Selon plusieurs sources proches de l’enquête, un homme soupçonné d’être un organisateur du réseau de trafic de migrants a par ailleurs été interpellé mercredi en Allemagne, dans le cadre d’un mandat d’arrêt européen émis par la France.
Le 23 octobre, les cadavres de 31 hommes et de huit femmes de nationalité vietnamienne, dont deux adolescents de 15 ans, avaient été découverts dans un conteneur dans la zone industrielle de Grays, à l’est de Londres. Le conteneur provenait du port belge de Zeebruges.
Selon une source judiciaire française, les enquêteurs ont pu déterminer grâce à des investigations techniques et des surveillances physiques que les migrants partaient de Bierne, dans le Nord de la France, vers Zeebruges.
Les personnes interpellées en Ile-de-France sont soupçonnées d’avoir hébergé et transporté des migrants par taxi entre la région parisienne et le Nord, selon cette source.
Le réseau a continué à oeuvrer après le drame, ainsi que pendant le confinement. Pendant cette période, les trafiquants se sont adaptés en aménageant les cabines des camions pour y dissimuler les candidats à la traversée de la Manche, à raison de trois ou quatre par voyage.
Le mois dernier, une arrestation avait déjà eu lieu en Irlande : celle du présumé organisateur de la rotation des chauffeurs participant au trafic.
Par ailleurs, dans l’enquête britannique, cinq personnes ont déjà été inculpées, dont Maurice Robinson, 25 ans, le chauffeur du camion intercepté à Grays. Début avril, ce dernier avait plaidé coupable d’homicides involontaires devant un tribunal londonien.
Après trois ans d’enquête, deux restaurants étaient à l’origine d’un vaste trafic d’êtres humains
Un trafic international d’immigration irrégulière et de traite d’être humains a été démantelé après une enquête qui a démarré, il y a trois ans, dans deux restaurants de l’Aude. Deux ressortissants vietnamiens clandestins munis de faux papiers, qui remboursaient leur voyage, travaillaient dans ces deux établissements. Au total, dix-neuf personnes ont été interpellées à l’automne 2019 sur l’ensemble du territoire et treize d’entre elles sont en prison.
Une filière internationale vietnamienne de traite d’êtres humains et d’aide à l’entrée et au séjour d’étrangers en bande organisée a été dévoilée à la suite d’une enquête qui a débuté il y a trois ans dans l’Aude, rapporte La Dépêche du Midi. Menée par la Brigade mobile de Recherche (BMR) de la Direction interdépartementale de la police aux frontières (DIDPAF) de Perpignan, cette enquête de longue haleine a démarré fin 2017 dans deux restaurants.
Les enquêteurs ont d’abord constaté que deux ressortissants vietnamiens clandestins travaillaient dans les deux établissements de l’Aude et possédaient de faux papiers. Après de nombreux recoupements judiciaires et des contrôles dans plusieurs restaurants, les policiers ont mis en évidence l’existence d’un vaste réseau dans le sud de la France et la région de Grenoble (Isère), relate le quotidien. Depuis, sur l’ensemble du territoire, dix-neuf personnes ont été interpellées et treize d’entre elles ont été emprisonnées.
Les clandestins devaient rembourser 35 000 €
Concernant le mode opératoire, les migrants vietnamiens arrivaient sur le territoire français, munis de faux titres de séjour français et rejoignaient ensuite des restaurants. Les responsables se chargeaient de les héberger, mais également de « procéder aux démarches administratives susceptibles de justifier leur emploi », relate La Dépêche du Midi. En travaillant dans ces établissements, les clandestins remboursaient le coût de leur voyage, qui atteignait 35 000 €.
« 29 restaurants, 66 personnes sans titre de travail et 29 personnes porteurs de faux ou susceptibles de l’être sont visés par l’enquête », rapporte le quotidien régional. Au vu des nombreuses ramifications de ce réseau, l’Office Central pour la Répression de l’Immigration Irrégulière de l’Emploi d’Étrangers Sans Titre (OCRIEST) a poursuivi les investigations. Les enquêteurs sont parvenus à établir un lien entre ce réseau et 39 migrants vietnamiens retrouvés morts dans un camion frigorifique, à Londres, en 2019. Deux des victimes venaient de Grenoble.
À l’automne 2019, des interpellations ont eu lieu dans plusieurs régions. Il a alors été établi que les migrants auraient payé pour obtenir des passeports vietnamiens. Les policiers ont aussi trouvé « 125 000 € en espèces, l’équivalent de 100 000 € en tickets-restaurant, deux véhicules haut de gamme et des faux documents », précise le quotidien régional. Les personnes à la tête de ce réseau risquent 20 ans de prison et jusqu’à 3 millions d’euros d’amende.
Modifications des circulations dans le Rhône : 1er,2,9 et 10 novembre. Les circulations de certains #trains seront modifiées dans le Rhône, à Lyon et Vénissieux, les 1er, 2, 9 et 10 novembre...Cet article Perturbations trafic SNCF grandes lignes le 22 octobre 2013 est apparu en premier sur Point Info Transports.
#RER A : En raison de la fin tardif de chantier en zone SNCF, le trafic est ralenti en direction de Boissy-Saint-Léger et Marne la Vallée-Chessy. RER C : Brétigny, dessertes modifiées le 22 octobre...Cet article Perturbations trafic RATP et SNCF Transilien le 22 octobre 2013 est apparu en premier sur Point Info Transports.