The deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants inside this truck sent shockwaves around the world | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Rousseau
The deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants inside this truck sent shockwaves around the world | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Rousseau

A court in Vietnam sentenced four people to several years in prison over their involvement in the deaths of 39 migrants, whose bodies were found in the back of a truck outside London last October.

The deaths of the migrants sent shockwaves through the world, highlighting the dangers of human trafficking once more.

The defendants in the case, aged between 24 and 36, were found guilty of “organizing and brokering illegal emigration,” the news agency Reuters reported on Monday, September 14. The sentences that were handed out ranged from 2.5 to 7.5 years, following a one-day trip in the central Vietnamese province of Ha Tinh — the province that most of the victims came from.

Several other suspects in the case who have been reprimanded in Vietnam earlier in the year still await trial.

Agonizing deaths documented to the last moment

The victims, who included two 15-year-old boys, were discovered in October 2019 in a container at the back of a truck near an industrial estate in Grays, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of the British capital, London.

They were smuggled from the impoverished provinces of Ha Tinh and neighbouring Nghe An to Europe in hopes of a better life. The area has become known as the smuggling center of Vietnam, with human traffickers reportedly asking for more than $20,000 (17,000 euros) to arrange the perilous journey, according to a police statement.The migrants were found dead from suffocation just outside London  Photo DWOne of the victims, Pham Thi Tra My, paid at least $22,000 to travel illegally to France and then on to Britain; some reports claim that she and her family actually had to pay almost twice that amount in total to be smuggled to the UK.

The 26-year-old is probably the most recognized victim, as her desperate text messages sent from inside the container, saying goodbye to her family in her final moments, made news around the world. 

That message read: “I'm sorry Dad and Mom. The way I went overseas was not successful. Mom, I love Dad and you so much. I'm dying because I can't breathe.”

Forgiveness over retribution

Pham Van Thin, Pham Thi Tra My’s father, who attended the trial, told Reuters that he didn’t “want the defendants to face long prison sentences, as I know that it was just an accident.”

“Handing them long prison terms won't help me get back my daughter,” Thin said. In an interview earlier in the year, he said that the smugglers had told him that this was a safe route into Europe and that “people would go by airplane and car.”

“If I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go. I've lost both my loved one and my money.”

Read more: People smuggling from Vietnam to Europe: The factsPeople continued to bring flowers to the site where the 39 Vietnamese migrants bodies were found inside a truck   Photo picture-allianceempicsUK trials slated for October

Meanwhile, trials continue in the UK over the involvement of people in the deaths. Last month, 40-year-old Irish truck driver Ronan Hughes became the second man to plead guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter over his involvement in the case. The other one was 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland — the man who was driving the truck when the bodies were found.

Robinson was due to be paid almost £60,000 (65,000 euros) to smuggle the Vietnamese migrants into the UK, according to media reports.

Meanwhile a third man involved in the case, 23-year-old Eamonn Harrison, also from Northern Ireland, has pleaded not guilty to the same charges, as have several British Romanian nationals, who are believed to have acted as middlemen in the people smuggling ring. Police traveled from the UK to Vietnam earlier in the year to gather evidence in the case.

A sentencing trial is due to begin at the Old Bailey Court in London on October 5, which is expected to last up to eight weeks. Meanwhile, another 26 people have been arrested in relation to the case in France and Belgium earlier this year.

Read more: Families of migrants found dead in truck struggle to repatriate bodies


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