UK po­lice ex­pand probe, say 39 dead in truck all from China

The Saline Courier - - NEWS -

LON­DON — All 39 peo­ple found dead in a re­frig­er­ated con­tainer truck near an English port were Chi­nese cit­i­zens, Bri­tish po­lice con­firmed Thurs­day as they in­ves­ti­gated one of the coun­try’s dead­li­est cases of peo­ple smug­gling.

The Es­sex Po­lice force said 31 men and eight women were found dead in the truck early Wed­nes­day at an in­dus­trial park in Grays, a town 25 miles (40 kilo­me­ters) east of Lon­don.

The 25-year-old truck driver, who is from North­ern Ire­land, was be­ing ques­tioned on sus­pi­cion of at­tempted mur­der but has not been charged. Po­lice in North­ern Ire­land also searched three prop­er­ties as they sought to piece to­gether how the truck’s cab, its con­tainer and the vic­tims came to­gether on such a deadly jour­ney.

The truck and con­tainer ap­par­ently took separate jour­neys be­fore end­ing up at the in­dus­trial park. Bri­tish po­lice said they be­lieve the con­tainer went from the Bel­gian port of Zee­brugge to Pur­fleet, Eng­land, where it ar­rived early Wed­nes­day and was picked up by the truck driver and driven the few miles to Grays.

The truck cab, which is reg­is­tered in Bul­garia to a com­pany owned by an Ir­ish woman, is be­lieved to have come from North­ern Ire­land, then headed to Dublin to catch a ferry to Wales be­fore driv­ing across Bri­tain to pick up the con­tainer.

The Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry said Chi­nese em­bassy em­ploy­ees in the U.K. were driv­ing to the scene of the crime to aid the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Bel­gian po­lice were try­ing to track down in­for­ma­tion from Zee­brugge.

Groups of mi­grants have re­peat­edly landed on English shores us­ing small boats for the risky Chan­nel cross­ing, and mi­grants are some­times found in the trunks of cars that dis­em­bark from the mas­sive fer­ries that link France and Eng­land. But Wed­nes­day’s macabre find in an in­dus­trial park was a re­minder that crim­i­nal gangs are still prof­it­ing from large-scale traf­fick­ing.

The tragedy re­calls the deaths of 58 Chi­nese mi­grants who suf­fo­cated in a truck in Dover, Eng­land af­ter a per­ilous, months-long jour­ney from China’s south­ern Fu­jian prov­ince. They were found stowed away with a cargo of toma­toes af­ter a ferry ride from Zee­brugge, the same Bel­gian port that fea­tured in the lat­est tragedy.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son vowed in Par­lia­ment that peo­ple smug­glers would be pros­e­cuted to the full ex­tent of the law. English-speak­ing Bri­tain, with its high de­mand for tourism, restau­rant and agri­cul­tural work­ers, re­mains a very at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for im­mi­grants from all coun­tries, even as the U.K. is re­think­ing its im­mi­gra­tion rules as it pre­pares to leave the 28-na­tion Euro­pean Union.

Nando Sig­ona, a pro­fes­sor of mi­gra­tion stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, said tougher mi­gra­tion con­trols born of pop­ulist anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment across Europe are clos­ing down less dan­ger­ous routes to the West and en­cour­ag­ing smug­glers to take more risks and try out new routes.

“The fact that all these peo­ple came from the same coun­try could hint to a more or­ga­nized crime sce­nario,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Usu­ally, if it’s an ad hoc ar­range­ment at the port, you would get a bit of a mix of na­tion­al­i­ties.”

Smug­glers — many of whom are paid their fi­nal in­stall­ment only when the per­son is de­liv­ered to his des­ti­na­tion — earn more by pack­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble into a ship or truck.

“Death is a side ef­fect,” he said.

In Fe­bru­ary 2004, 21 Chi­nese mi­grants — also from Fu­jian — who were work­ing as cockle-pick­ers in Bri­tain drowned when they were caught by treach­er­ous tides in More­cambe Bay in north­west Eng­land.

Sig­ona, who has stud­ied Chi­nese im­mi­grants to the U.K., said China’s ris­ing mid­dle class has more ac­cess to mul­ti­ple routes to come to the West legally — say, with stu­dent or tourist visas.

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