Inside a refrigerated container brought into Britain by lorry, 39 people died. Why was their nationality a surprise?

24 October 2019 By Paul Martin

The first was that though the driver of the vehicle was from Northern Ireland and was arrested on suspicion of murder, the victims had all got into the container in Western Europe, not in Ireland.

The company that the truck-driver Mo Robinson, 25, was working for had no obvious connection with the owners of the container.

Mo Robinson
From Facebook account.

The fact that the trucking company was registered in Bulgaria may be suspicious, but is not concrete proof that the trucker or his company was in cahoots with a smuggling ring based in eastern Europe.

The second and far more surprising aspect, not picked up for many hours by the British media, was the nationality of the people being trafficked or smuggled. They were not, as the media had rushed to assume, desperate would-be refugees from war-torn Syria or even from Afghanistan.

Rather, the 30 men, one teenager and eight women were all from the Far East, Vietnamese using a Chinese-based smuggling ring, the British authorities have disclosed.

This rather undermined the instant experts, including a British representative of the Red Cross, who argued that if only Western Europe in general and Britain in particular would be more generous in providing immigrant visas or asylum, people from conflict zones or those living in poverty-stricken countries would not resort to dangerous journeys inside lorries or containers.

China has the world’s second-biggest economy and has enjoyed rapidly rising living standards. Vietnam has made good economic progress in recent years. Experts say many Chinese are lured into taking risky voyages to Europe through being given false information about the high living standards they will enjoy and the social benefits to which they will be entitled. They do not have any real idea of how dangerous it is to be cooped up in trucks or, where this is done, to undertake sea voyages in unsuitable boats.

For years, illegal immigrants have tried to reach Britain by stowing away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In the biggest tragedy, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck in 2000 at the south-eastern English port of Dover.

The people-smuggling industry is fueled in part by the sympathy expressed by liberal Europeans for people from third-world countries, and a belief that anyone from anywhere in the world is entitled to live wherever he or she chooses. The asylum system, however, restricts the rights of asylum-seekers to those being able to show a “genuine and reasonable fear of persecution” in their home countries. It also says only the country where the would-be asylum-seeker first reaches has an obligation to give them this permanent shelter. Most would-be asylum-seekers, unless they have arrived in the UK or another European city by a direct air-flight, will have crossed several countries first.

Immigration not poverty is the prime reason for a Far Eastern influx into Europe.

It has been happening for several years – and not jut with the destination being the United Kingdom.

It is believed around 100 people were getting into the country annually through the scam at Dublin Airport – until the scheme was uncovered in January 2017.

Chinese people smugglers, known as ‘snakeheads’, would charge between €10,000 and €30,000 per smuggled person.

In the container disaster this week, the family of one Vietnamese woman say they paid thirty thousand pounds to smugglers who guaranteed to transport her from Vietnam to Britain. The BBC has reported that it understands this money has been paid back to the family now she is dead.

Pham Tra My
Pham Thi Tra My, 26, whose brother Pham Ngoc Tuan has told UK police the family had paid £30,000 to people smugglers. She had contacted them, apparently from the container, texting that she would not see them again as she was suffocating. The photo was released by her family who are already resident in the UK.

The immigrants had come to Europe by a different means – many may have been in Europe illegally for some time. They then boarded the country’s national airline, Air Lingus, at a European city.

At Dublin’s international airport, they were able to bypass Passport Control, Customs and Immigration.

  • Foreign nationals would follow the normal walk towards Immigration and be “intercepted”
  • The illegal immigrants were then brought into a room and given uniforms and high-visibility vests
  • They were ferried out of Dublin Airport to a car park in catering trucks that had permits to travel into and out of the normally restricted zones of the airport.

They ring was only uncovered by luck: one would-be illegal immigrant had missed his flight and was not intercepted on the tarmac by the smuggling ring, so reached passport control and was apprehended.

Three men aged 61, 56 and 28 – two of whom worked for Aer Lingus – were later arrested at the airport. Two of the suspects were foreign nationals. One, a former Hong Kong resident, was sentenced to four years in jail.

Ironically, the vehicle that drove the container this week had “Ireland” emblazoned on the windscreen along with the message “The Ultimate Dream”. It started its journey in Dublin, police said.

Shaun Sawyer, national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said Britain was perceived by organised crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.

“We have to accept that we have permeable borders,” he told BBC radio.

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