HANOI (REUTERS, AFP, DPA) - Britain has sent documents to Vietnam to help identify some of the 39 people found dead in a truck near London last week, Hanoi said on Monday (Oct 28), as fears mount that most of the dead were Vietnamese.
The eight women and 31 men found last Wednesday in a refrigerated container in Essex, south-east England, were originally identified as Chinese.
But several Vietnamese families have come forward saying they fear their relatives are among the dead.
On Monday, Vietnam said Britain had sent documents to help with the complicated task of identifying the bodies, many who were believed to be carrying falsified passports.
“The UK side has sent four sets of dossiers related to the Essex lorry deaths... for verification coordination,” Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son said, according to a report on the government’s website.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry is developing files on the suspected victims, the report said, after hair and blood samples were collected from several families.
The Vietnamese embassy in London has assigned a permanent diplomat to help with the investigation, the largest murder probe in Britain since the 2005 London suicide bombings.
British police have said very few of the victims were carrying official identification and that they hope to identify the dead through fingerprints, dental records and DNA, as well as photographs from friends and relatives.
Vietnamese officials started collecting DNA samples from families in Nghe An and Ha Tinh, the impoverished central provinces where most of the suspected victims came from.
On Saturday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered an investigation into overseas trafficking.
Vietnamese media reported that as many as 24 of the victims could be Vietnamese, although officials have not confirmed the number.
The truck tragedy has plunged communities in central Vietnam into mourning, as families desperately wait for news from their missing relatives.
Nguyen Dinh Gia, 57, said he feared that his son, Nguyen Dinh Luong, was among the lorry victims. The 20-year-old had been trying to get to Britain after first making it to France.
Gia told DPA last week that he had little hope his son survived. "Now I do not have any hope about his life. I am sure he is dead, but I am trying to keep 1 per cent of hope that he is still alive," Gia said.
The father of Pham Thi Tra My, who sent a final text message to her family in the early hours of Wednesday Vietnam time, said police had also collected samples of blood and hair.
Last Friday, a rights activist revealed that the 26-year-old had sent a message to her mother in Vietnam saying she was "dying because I can't breathe".
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s embassy in Vietnam was in close contact with the Vietnamese government about the case, but did not elaborate.
China is also asking Britain to provide more information so as to ascertain the victims’ identities, he added.
PERSON OF INTEREST ARRESTED
British police have already charged one man, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and other offences including conspiracy to traffic people. He was set to appear in court on Monday.
Police in Britain also said a man was arrested in Dublin on Saturday.
“A man arrested by the Garda at Dublin port on Saturday, 26 October, is a person of interest in our murder investigation,” Essex Police said.
Three people arrested in connection with the investigation had been released on bail, British police said on Sunday. All three had been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.
Hundreds of Vietnamese nationals are trafficked to Britain each year, according to the charity Ecpat.
Central Vietnam has long been a source of illegal migration to Britain for people seeking better lives.
Vietnamese migrants often work illegally in nail bars or cannabis farms, heavily indebted and vulnerable to exploitation.