UK police name 39 Vietnamese victims of truck horror

The official identification of victims has confirmed the worst fears of the family of Bui Thi Nhung

British police on Friday released the names of 39 Vietnamese people found dead in a refrigerated truck last month, including two 15-year-old boys.

Many were from the same two provinces in Vietnam, Nghe An and Ha Tinh, which are known as hubs for illegal emigration -- and where relatives have been desperately waiting for news.

Of the 39 victims found in a shipping container parked near the south-east English port of Purfleet on October 23, 10 were under the age of 20 and eight were female.

The British and Vietnamese authorities are now working to repatriate the bodies.

Many of the families had previously spoken to AFP about their missing loved ones, painting a picture of young men and women desperate for a better life.

Nguyen Huy Hung, a 15-year-old boy from Nghi Xuan district in Ha Tinh province, had left his rural village for Britain, to join his parents. His sister had already moved to South Korea.

Hoang Van Tiep, 18, and his cousin, Nguyen Van Hung, 33, from Dien Chau district in Nghe An, left a year ago together to move to France.

The younger man worked as a dishwasher before they both tried to travel to Britain.

On October 21, two days before the truck was found, Hoang Van Tiep wrote to his family asking for $13,000 to pay to smugglers for his trip.

Some of the relatives who spoke to AFP were worried about how to repay thousands of dollars of debt their children took on for the ill-fated trip.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, from Can Loc district in Ha Tinh province, had left home on October 3 and sent a final message to her mother from inside the truck.

"I'm sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn't succeed. Mom and dad I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe," she said.

- Back to the homeland -

Essex police had worked with Vietnamese authorities to identify the victims, using fingerprints, DNA, medical and dental records.

"Our priority has been to identify the victims, to preserve the dignity of those who have died and to support the victims' friends and families," said the policeman leading the investigation, Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith.

In a letter to the families earlier this week, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the tragedy had caused them and Vietnamese people worldwide "endless pain".

He vowed to "soon bring the victims back to the homeland".

He also urged global cooperation "to eliminate this especially dangerous crime... and seriously punish the criminals".

Brokers help Vietnamese citizens travel to European countries -- often Russia -- with many hoping to then make it on to Britain illicitly.

The routes across Europe can be extremely risky, particularly the final leg to the UK where many migrants are hidden inside trucks.

Charities and experts say that many migrants are subject to labour exploitation on their routes westwards and in Britain -- especially women and minors.

Many Vietnamese end up working in nail bars or on cannabis farms, earning money to pay back brokers and send home.

Vietnamese authorities have detained 11 people there for facilitating travel abroad with the intention of staying overseas illegally, but none have been formally charged.

British police have charged the 25-year-old Northern Irish driver of the truck with manslaughter, money laundering and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

They are also in the process of extraditing another suspect from Ireland and searching for others potentially involved.