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British Police Arrest 3 People After Discovery Of 39 Bodies In A Truck


Now let's turn to the U.K. and the case of the 39 migrants who were found dead inside a truck in London. British police have arrested three more people on suspicion of manslaughter. That's on top of the truck driver, who was detained immediately. The victims were first thought to have been from China, but as NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, some may have been Vietnamese.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The Vietnamese embassy in London says a number of families back in Vietnam are asking if their loved ones are among the dead. One is the family of Pham Tra My, 26, who had been trying to cross the English Channel with the help of smugglers. On the evening when the refrigerated trucking container came to Britain by ferry, Pham sent her family this frantic text. I'm sorry, Mom. My path abroad didn't succeed, she wrote, according to a screenshot posted by a human rights group in Hanoi. Mom, I love you and Dad so much. I'm dying because I can't breathe. The family says they've not heard from her since.

Pippa Mills, the deputy chief constable of Essex Police, said it would take time to identify the dead.


PIPPA MILLS: We gave an initial steer on Thursday on nationality. However, this is now a developing picture. As such, I will not be drawn on any further detail until formal identification processes approved by Her Majesty's coroner have taken place.

LANGFITT: Mills urged anyone who can identify the victims to come forward, even if they're in Britain illegally.


MILLS: I can assure you that your information will be received in the strictest confidence and no criminal action will be taken against you.

LANGFITT: If some of those who died in the container were from Vietnam, that wouldn't surprise Shalini Patel, a human rights lawyer with many migrant clients. She says those from Vietnam all stowed away on trucks heading across the channel and that their arduous journeys began with poverty and debt back home. For instance, one client told her he borrowed money from loan sharks to open a restaurant, which failed.

SHALINI PATEL: He borrowed more money, ended up in so much debt, couldn't pay that money back. And then obviously, the traffickers say to them, you'll be able to earn more money abroad. We can organize all of this for you. There'll be a job waiting for you at the other end.

LANGFITT: But that job turned out to be growing pot, and police arrested him in a raid.

PATEL: He served, I think, 14 months in prison. This is so common. Vietnamese individuals that we represent, especially the men, they all work in cannabis houses.

LANGFITT: Patel says Vietnamese women have tended to end up in nail salons and doing sex work. Emily Kenway works for Focus on Labour Exploitation, an advocacy group. She says even migrants trafficked into legitimate jobs are scared to go to police because of the consequences.

EMILY KENWAY: One of the main tools traffickers use to control their victims and keep them terrified is they tell them, if you run away, if you seek help, immigration authorities are going to find you. They're going to lock you up.

LANGFITT: And send you home. Smugglers place migrants on trucks crossing the channel every day. Lorenzo Zaccheo, who runs Alcaline, a transport company near the Port of Dover, says some use refrigerated containers to conceal the smell of human cargo from sniffer dogs. Lorenzo's son David, the company's operations manager, says more often migrants slash open curtains on the side of trucks and just jump inside.

DAVID ZACCHEO: The people that are wanting to come over, they're so desperate to come over that they're going to take any chance possible.

LANGFITT: This tragedy isn't the first of its kind. In the year 2000, authorities found 58 Chinese people suffocated in a refrigerated trailer in Dover.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.