02:04, February 04 257 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-04 02:04:04
Families call for inquests into deaths of Vietnamese migrants

Families of the 39 Vietnamese migrants whose bodies were discovered in a refrigerated lorry in Essex last year and campaigners in the UK are calling for inquests to be held into the deaths.

While criminal proceedings related to the tragic deaths continue, there has been no indication whether there will be any wider investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

A letter from INQUEST, Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has been sent to the Essex coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, urging her to confirm that she will hold full inquests into the deaths. It has also been sent to the chief coroner, the home secretary and Home Office ministers.

“Very serious concerns arise as to the circumstances in which 39 men, women and children came to die in such desperate circumstances in a refrigerated lorry in Essex on 23 October,” the letter states.

The three organisations question how and why the migrants came to travel undetected, particularly while crossing the border, and whether there had been a safer route for them to take. There is currently no legal route for unskilled workers from Vietnam to come to the UK.

“An indication from you that it is your intention that inquests should be held into these deaths would be likely to provide some welcome reassurance to the families of the deceased,” the letter says.

It adds that such confirmation would also reassure the wider public “that these deaths will be fully and fearlessly investigated in the context of widespread concern that vulnerable people are engaging in more and more desperate measures to reach the UK”.

The organisations are keen to secure an undertaking from the Home Office that the families can participate fully in any investigations relating to the deaths of their loved ones. It is understood that the Home Office agrees that families should be provided with all necessary support to allow them to participate in the investigatory process.

Pham Van Thin, the father of Pham Thi Tra My, whose text saying “I’m sorry, mum … I’m dying because I can’t breathe” was circulated around the world, said: “I hope the British government can prevent such a tragedy from being repeated and reduce the risk for all people. I support such a thorough inquest.”

Nguyen Dinh Gia, the father of victim Nguyen Dinh Luong, said: “We did not arrange any activities this lunar new year because we are devastated. We just stayed at home and wiped away our tears when thinking of him. Our health has worsened recently. We don’t know how we can continue to live.

“We organised the 100-day anniversary of his death on Sunday. Last year, he called us to congratulate us during lunar new year, but not this year. I agree and totally support an inquest to prevent such a case from happening again.”

Hanoi-based Ha Thi Van Khanh, National Project Coordinator for UN-ACT (United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons), has been following the case closely.

She said: “I think further investigation would be worthwhile to get to know what really happened to them and what caused their deaths. Furthermore, it will provide more information and evidence to conclude whether they were victims of trafficking or informal migrants. To my knowledge, they haven’t been identified as victims in Vietnam.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals last October was a shocking tragedy, and those responsible must be brought to justice. We are fully supporting Essex police with their investigation in this case, and are throwing the full force of the law at it.”

Essex county council, which has responsibility for Essex coroner’s court, has been approached for comment.