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Discovery of 39 bodies in tractor trailer in England is only “tip of the iceberg,” priest says

British Police
Ben STANSALL | AFP
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Vietnamese families pay thousands to get loved ones into Europe.

The discovery of 39 bodies of Vietnamese trying to get into England illegally is just the “tip of the iceberg” of a wave of people taking chances out of desperation, said a Franciscan priest who heads a Catholic anti-trafficking agency in Ireland.

Police in Vietnam arrested two people last Friday as part of the investigation into the deaths of 39 people, who had frozen to death last month in a refrigerated tractor-trailer in southeastern England.

According to the New York Times, the Ha Tinh regional police in central Vietnam said that in addition to the two people they arrested, they summoned several others for questioning on suspicion of helping people to travel abroad illegally. Half a world away, a 23-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland was charged in Ireland with 39 counts of manslaughter, human trafficking and immigration offenses in connection to the case, the Times said.

The incident has “exposed the levels of organization going on,” Franciscan Fr. Sean Cassin, founder of CEO of the anti-trafficking NGO Dasatt, told the Irish Catholic. “It exposes the considerable numbers that aren’t recorded that are being trafficked.”

Dassat was “inundated” with calls from “terrified” family members trying to figure out if a son or daughter was among the bodies, the newspaper said.

Fr. Cassin, who has worked with Vietnamese people in Ireland and in southeast Asia and speaks Vietnamese, said many of the families pay exorbitant amounts of money to traffickers so their son or daughter can live and work in Europe and send money home.

But it’s risky, he said, and “a lot of families don’t want it known even to neighbors that some of their young people are missing. They would be quite scared, they wouldn’t have reported to the police, because of the attention that would bring on them from traffickers. Also they often owe money to debtors, to loan sharks, so they don’t want it getting out that their son or daughter is missing and the funds won’t be forthcoming.”

The Irish Catholic continued:

Fr. Cassin said families would “find it very frightening and very horrific” that people trafficked from Vietnam would be found in a trailer under the circumstances. “They would pay £20,000 to a trafficker to get their son or daughter to the UK, they have it in their heads they’re been flown in or going by ship, this notion of the container is quite a horrific spectacle for families to consider,” he added.

Speaking over the weekend, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh commented that the “horror of this discovery” should awaken people to the reality that human trafficking could be happening “right in front of us—in our own parish, in our own town.”

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