LONDON | Almost a year after the appalling discovery of 39 Vietnamese migrants dead in a refrigerated truck in England, four men are on trial from Monday in London, in the UK’s first trial in the case.
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The two main suspects, the driver of the truck in which the bodies were found and a Northern Irishman suspected of having organized the movement of the drivers involved in the traffic, have pleaded guilty and will be the subject of a subsequent hearing. to determine their sentence.
The four men whose trial opens at the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London, aged 23 to 43, are being charged with manslaughter or aiding illegal immigration. They dispute the offenses with which they are accused.
On October 23, 2019, the bodies of 31 men and eight women, including two 15-year-old adolescents, were found aboard a container in the Grays industrial area, east London. The container came from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Among the victims, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, had sent a chilling SMS to his relatives, a few hours before the discovery of the bodies: “Mum, dad, I love you very much. I’m dying, I can’t breathe anymore ”.
Many of the victims of this tragedy were from a poor region in central Vietnam, where families are running into thousands of dollars in debt to send one of their own to the United Kingdom, via clandestine channels, in the hope they will find well-paying jobs there.
The drama has brought to light the dangers of illegal immigration, with unscrupulous traffickers taking advantage of applicants’ vulnerabilities, the latter often ending up in nail bars or illegal cannabis farms in the UK reduced to a state of semi-slavery.
Seven people were sentenced on September 15 in Vietnam for their role in trafficking, the first criminal sanctions pronounced in this case.
A court in Ha Tinh province (central) handed down four Vietnamese between the ages of 26 and 36, sentences ranging from two and a half to seven and a half years in prison. They were found guilty of participating to varying degrees in “the organization of the smuggling of migrants”. Three others were given suspended prison terms.
Investigations have also been opened in France and Belgium, where 13 suspects have been charged in each of the two countries. They had been arrested during a large international police operation, coordinated by the judicial cooperation body Eurojust.
The British government, which made post-Brexit immigration control a hobbyhorse, recently faced a record number of attempts to cross the Channel from France, in often sketchy boats, using smugglers .
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Sunday announced a major overhaul of the UK’s asylum system, without specifying the details. Proposals, such as holding applicants on old ferries, or even on disused platforms in the North Sea or on British Isles in the mid-Atlantic, have been reported in the press.