British judge orders extradition of Vietnamese teen accused in migrant smuggling case

A 2019 photo shows British forensics officers working on the lorry in which 39 men, women and children died in horrific conditions.
A 2019 photo shows British forensics officers working on the lorry in which 39 men, women and children died in horrific conditions.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - A judge in Britain on Thursday (April 8) blocked an extradition appeal by a Vietnamese teenager wanted by Belgium in connection with a people smuggling operation that led to the deaths of 39 migrants in southern England.

Ngo Sy Tai, also known as Hung Sy Truong, is accused by Belgian authorities of running the safe house that held the migrants and transporting them to a location near the France-Belgium border.

Ngo, 18, fled to Birmingham in central England via Berlin following the discovery of the 39 dead men, women and children in horrific conditions in the back of a sealed lorry unit in October 2019.

The migrants - the youngest of whom were two 15-year-old boys - suffocated in the container as they were being transported to what they had hoped would be new lives in Britain.

Defence lawyer Joel Smith appealed against the extradition over the lack of detail in the charges against the teenager, explaining he was unable to give sufficient legal counsel.

However Westminster Magistrates' Court District Judge Mark Jabbit said in his written ruling that Ngo should be extradited.

The court heard that the Vietnamese teenager, who was 16 at the time of the crime and faces a possible 20 years in prison if convicted, ran a safe house in Anderlecht in Brussels used for the trafficking of other Vietnamese nationals.

"The vulnerable position of the people who paid money to be smuggled was abused and minors were also abused," prosecution lawyer Daniel Sternberg said.

He said Ngo arranged for taxis to take the Vietnamese migrants to a location near the France-Belgium border before they were put on the lorry bound for Britain.

"A criminal attitude on the part of Ngo and others amounted to gaining money with total disregard to the physical and psychological impact on the victim," the lawyer added.

Sternberg said the migrants kept at the safe house were "forbidden to leave, and were obliged to be silent during their stay".

The four ringleaders of the people smuggling ring were jailed in January in Britain after being sentenced to between 20 and 27 years in prison for their role in the tragedy which cast a shocking new light on the lengths migrants will go to in a bid to reach Britain.