As of yesterday, British authorities have identified all 39 of the human trafficking victims found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex, UK on October 23, 2019.
While Essex police initially identified the victims as Chinese, it has since been determined that the deceased were Vietnamese nationals. These included eight women and 31 men. This week, British authorities and the Vietnamese embassy in London concluded their efforts to identify each of the deceased.
While the names of the victims have not yet been released to the public, the Vietnamese embassy and police are in the process of contacting the families of the dead. Tim Smith, an assistant chief constable in Essex, said “This is an important step in the investigation and enables us to work with our Vietnamese police colleagues to support the families of those victims.”
Arrests Thus Far
A number of individuals in both Britain and Vietnam have been arrested or detained in connection with the incident.
The first arrest was the driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson. Robinson, who is a British citizen, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, two charges of people trafficking, and two charges of money laundering.
Robinson appeared in court in Essex on October 28. District Judge Timothy King denied Robinson bail, though his attorney, Julian Hayes of Berri’s Law, made no application. Robinson appears again at London’s Old Bailey on November 25, 2019, where he will enter a plea.
Three other British citizens have been arrested on charges related to human trafficking. Eamonn Harrison was arrested in Dublin on a European Arrest Warrant and faces extradition for manslaughter, human trafficking, and conspiracy to assist illegal immigration.
In Vietnam, eight citizens have been arrested, whom police suspect of trafficking the Vietnamese nationals to Britain.
The International Network of Human Traffickers
This case exemplifies the opacity and risks of the human trafficking system that connects Vietnam to Western Europe.
Some of the victims passed through a number of European states, including France, before crossing the channel to Britain. It is common for trafficking victims to use states such as Belgium, Germany, and Poland as intermediary steps in a journey to France. From France, it is then possible to reach London, where migrants seek higher wages and opportunities for employment.
The initial confusion over the origins of the Essex lorry victims reflects the complexity of the system linking impoverished communities in countries such as Vietnam to major European cities. Police initially believed that the lorry came from Bulgaria and later claimed it came from Belgium. Furthermore, they misidentified the victims as Chinese, before realizing all 39 of the victims were from Vietnam.
Following the incident, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called upon the international community “step up cooperation” to prevent human trafficking.
The Exploitation of Poverty
According to a British government report last year, 70 percent of Vietnamese human trafficking cases that occurred in the UK between 2009 and 2016 involved labor exploitation. Many of the victims in the lorry incident are thought to hail from rural areas in Northern Vietnam, where poverty is rife and individuals seeking employment are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
Many of the lorry victims are believed to have come from the Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in Northern Vietnam. The latter was ravished by an environmental disaster in 2016, when a Taiwanese steel mill contaminated coastal waters that support the fishing and tourism industries in the province. 41,790 people left Ha Tinh this year alone, many seeking work in Europe.
Services and memorials have been taking place in many of these communities for weeks, due to the many local leaders’ convictions that some of the victims hailed from these towns.
Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a Catholic minister in Nghe An, has been conducting services in honor of those suspected to be dead. He described the losses as “a catastrophe for our community.”