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DNA samples could help identify 39 found dead in truck in England

Police in central Vietnam said Sunday that they have taken forensic samples from residents who believe their family members may be among the 39 victims found dead last week in the back of a truck in England.

Police in Nghe An province took samples, including hair and nail cuttings, from the family members to try to help identify the victims, the VNExpress news website reported.

Up to 24 Vietnamese families had reported their missing family members to local authorities as of Sunday afternoon, the website said.

Thirteen people in Nghe An’s Yen Thanh district have been reported missing, with relatives fearing they could be among the victims found early Wednesday in an industrial park in southeastern England.

Police in the United Kingdom say three of five suspects arrested were released on bail Sunday after questioning. The alleged driver of the truck, Maurice Robinson, a man from Northern Ireland, is scheduled to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

Robinson is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.

Perilous choice for migrants

At their home in the district’s Tho Thanh village, the mother and a brother of Vo Ngoc Nam were awaiting news from the U.K. after not hearing from him for a week.

“We suspect that he was in the container in which people died. We don’t know what’s going on, but we think it’s true,” Nam’s older brother Vo Ngoc Chuyen said.

In Do Thanh, another village in the district, people attended a Sunday mass to pray for the missing family members. Three families in Do Thanh have reported to local authorities that their missing family members could be among the victims.

During the mass, the priest, Rev. Nguyen Duc Vinh, encouraged people to keep up their hopes until officials confirm the identities of the victims.

Priest Nguyen Duc Vinh prays as he leads a Sunday mass at Phu Tang church in Yen Thanh district, Nghe An province, Vietnam, on Sunday. (Linh Do/The Associated Press)

The path for Vietnamese seeking a new life in Europe can involve a perilous choice between one of two routes: The “grass” or the “VIP,” according to anti-trafficking experts, migrants and their family members.

“If he took the VIP route, there’s a one per cent chance he was captured. It’s the safest and most expensive route,” said Nguyen Dinh Gia, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong’s father

“If he took the grass route, I’m 100 per cent sure he died,” Gia said. “The vehicle in this incident … that’s the grass route.”

Joseph Nguyen Quang Hoa, the brother of Vietnamese Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong, shows a picture of Dinh Luong on his mobile phone on Sunday. (Reuters/Kham)

Many trafficked Vietnamese end up working in illegal cannabis farms in Britain, but “grass” in this case is a slang word used in Vietnam to describe something as dirt cheap.

That option, which involves travelling from the Southeast Asian country overland to Europe, means arduous months of secretive movement by car and even walking.

“They’ll often go from Vietnam into China, and then cross into Russia,” said Mimi Vu, an independent anti-trafficking advocate based in Ho Chi Minh City.

“This is usually done by automobile, and then they’ll go from Russia into one of the neighbouring countries like Ukraine or Latvia on foot, crossing forests and mountains only at night.”

Taking the VIP route typically involves using fake or recycled passports to fly from Vietnam to Europe via a third country in a process that takes days instead of months, but comes at a much higher cost, she added.

Nguyen Dinh Gia shows a barbell which was used by his son, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong, on Sunday. (Reuters/Kham)

The grass route costs about $5,000 Cdn, while the VIP route is about $18,000, Gia said.

“Luong told me he chose the VIP route, so I don’t understand how he ended up on this path,” Gia said.

Massive investigation

U.K. police said Saturday that all 39 victims were out of the truck and in a mortuary awaiting autopsies. But they said the victims have not been identified and very few documents were found with the bodies.

Police officers cordon off the area around the lorry at the scene in Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, Britain, on Oct. 23. (Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE)

British police said their investigation includes over 500 exhibits, including cellphones that have to be downloaded to help identify the victims.

“We are working hard to understand how the 39 victims of this tragic incident have died and to identify all those involved,” said Det. Chief Insp. Martin Pasmore.

“We remain open-minded as to nationalities of those who have died. We are asking anyone who may have information that may assist us in identification to come forward to us.”


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