All 39 deceased — eight women and 31 men — discovered in a refrigerated truck trailer in Essex, England have been confirmed by British police to be Chinese nationals.
The full circumstances around their deaths and the reason for this journey are still unknown, however, this incident is believed to be the latest case of human trafficking and is being treated as such.
Media reports have suggested that the 39 people could have frozen to death in the refrigerated container due to temperatures being as low as -25 degrees Celsius (-13 degrees Fahrenheit), according to The Guardian.
Following the discovery, the Chinese embassy in London released a statement saying, “We read with a heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex, England. We are in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the relevant reports.”
The Northern Irish truck driver, 25-year-old Morris Robinson, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and police have secured a warrant allowing them to keep him in custody for up to an additional 24 hours. Police also confirmed that they searched three properties relating to this incident in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.
Police stated that each body will undergo a full coroner’s examination in order to establish the cause of death and identify the victims, which is expected to take some time.
Investigators have now turned their attention to piecing together the truck’s movements hoping to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 39 Chinese nationals.
Sunday, October 20
Robinson entered the United Kingdom through Dublin, Republic of Ireland, after crossing the Irish Sea to the Welsh port of Holyhead via a ferry. He then traveled to Essex to pick up the trailer.
Tuesday, October 22
The container arrived in Zeebrugge port, Belgium at 2:49 p.m. and sailed for Purfleet, Essex later that same afternoon.
Wednesday, October 23
The container arrived half past midnight at the Essex port of Purfleet and was then hitched to a truck and driven away around 1:05 a.m., according to officials.
Around 1:40 a.m., the 39 bodies inside the trailer were found at Waterglade industrial park in Grays, Essex.
Belgian federal prosecutor, Eric Van Duyse, opened an inquiry into these deaths and have told local media, “Up till now, we have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. We don’t even know which road was followed by the truck in Belgium. We don’t know how much time it stayed in Belgian territory.
“We don’t know if it stopped or not. We don’t know if the people got into the container or not. So, we have a lot of questions that we are hoping to find [answers to].”
This incident is the worst human smuggling tragedy in the U.K. since the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants were discovered crammed into a container in Dover, Kent in 2000. Only two young men survived, according to ITV.
Similarly, the container had been shipped from Zeebrugge, Belgium. However, in this case, the victims suffocated in the sweltering heat after the truck’s vents were closed and the refrigeration system shut down. The Dutch truck driver in this investigation was jailed for 14 years for manslaughter the following year.
Chinese migrants can reportedly pay smugglers up to £14,000 ($17,994) to reach the U.K. in search of a better life in the West, but they often find themselves in debt bondage upon arrival, according to experts. Traffickers exploit these immigrants and sometimes force them to work in brothels or restaurants to pay off their debts.
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