Several investigators inspect the truck in which the bodies were found | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Rousseau
Several investigators inspect the truck in which the bodies were found | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Rousseau

Police in France and Belgium have arrested more than two dozen suspects over the deaths last year of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the UK. The suspects are accused of belonging to an illegal smuggling organization.

Belgian and French police on Wednesday announced the arrests of 26 people over the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants.

Officers swooped in a series of raids around Brussels and Paris as part of an investigation that also involved British and Irish police.

The migrants, 31 men and 8 women, were found dead in a refrigerated truck in an industrial zone east of London last October. The case sparked an international outcry.

In Belgium, where some of the victims stayed on the way to their deaths, police held 13 people, including 11 Vietnamese nationals. The others, arrested in France, were also described as being mostly Vietnamese.

Investigators found that the migrants who died had been loaded onto the truck in northern France. They also discovered that — even after the tragedy — the network continued its operations, charging €15,000 to €20,000 ($16,500 to 21,950) to cross from France to Britain.

"The network set up by the smugglers is suspected of having likely transported up to several dozen people every day for several months," Belgian federal prosecutors said in a statement.

"The organization focused on transporting refugees from Asia, particularly from Vietnam."

The driver of the lorry last month pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the 39 deaths.

Hopes of a better life

Four other men are on trial in London over the tragedy, while another faces extradition from Ireland to Britain on 39 counts of manslaughter.

The tragedy revealed the extraordinary risks migrants are willing to risk to reach Britain. Some would pay smugglers up to $40,000 to make the perilous journey.

Autopsy reports showed that the victims died from lack of oxygen and overheating while in the truck.

Those who died came from impoverished and remote corners of central Vietnam. The area is a hotspot for those willing to risk everything in the hope of striking it rich abroad.

Those who are smuggled are often left with huge debts to their traffickers, and end up working in nail salons or on cannabis farms.

rc/sms (dpa, AP, AFP)

First published: May 27, 2020

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