HANOI (DPA, REUTERS) - Amid harrowing tales of missing Vietnamese, who are considered potential victims in the tragic UK lorry deaths, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into the trafficking of overseas Vietnamese, state media said late Saturday (Oct 26).
"(You) must investigate and find out cases of Vietnamese citizens being brought illegally to foreign countries and strictly handle the violations," Mr Phuc said in a statement, adding that he wanted reports on the case from authorities by Nov 5.
Mr Phuc also called on the Vietnamese embassy in the UK to work with British police and help identify the victims.
The Vietnamese embassy has set up a hotline for concerned Vietnamese nationals who are seeking assistance, according to the Vietnamese government's official media page.
Several townships in rural Vietnam sank into mourning on Saturday, with communities believing that many of the 39 people found dead in the back of a lorry near London on Wednesday came from poor, rice-growing areas of the country.
The bodies were discovered after emergency services were alerted to people in a lorry container on an industrial site in Grays, about 32km east of central London.
British police said on Saturday that they had 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.
Police initially believed the dead were Chinese, but Beijing said the nationalities had not been confirmed and on Saturday a senior British police officer in charge of identification asked for help from Britain's Vietnamese community.
Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a Catholic priest in the remote town of Yen Thanh in northern-central Vietnam's Nghe An province, 300km south of Hanoi, said he believed most of the dead were likely from Vietnam. He told Reuters he was liaising with family members.
"The whole district is covered in sorrow," Father Nam said, as prayers for the dead rang out over loudspeakers throughout the misty, rain-soaked town on Saturday.
"This is a catastrophe for our community."
On Saturday evening, Father Nam led around 500 worshippers in prayers for the dead as they held lit candles in the modest, white-walled church in Yen Thanh.
Father Nam said families had told him they knew relatives were travelling to Britain at the time the container truck was travelling, and had been unable to contact their loved ones.
The British police officer in charge of identifying the victims, Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, said very few were carrying official identification and that he hoped to identify the dead through fingerprints, dental records and DNA, as well as photos from friends and relatives.
Police have found more than 500 items within the lorry including bags, clothing and mobile phones that need to be assessed. Once a preliminary identification has been made, liaison officers will be deployed to support families.
Apart from the man charged, who will appear in court on Monday for an initial hearing, three other people are under arrest in Britain on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking. A fourth person is under arrest in Dublin.
Nghe An is one of Vietnam's poorest provinces, and home to many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe, according to a March report by the Pacific Links Foundation, a US-based anti-trafficking organisation.
Other victims among the 39 dead are believed to come from the neighbouring province of Ha Tinh, Father Nam said. In the first eight months of this year, 41,790 people left Ha Tinh looking for work elsewhere, including overseas, according to state media.