The devastated parents of a young woman suspected of being among the 39 migrants found dead in a lorry in Essex, UK, have spoken of their heartbreak, saying they were told by smugglers it would be safe.
Pham Thi Tra My sent a series of harrowing messages to her family saying she could not breathe. Her parents said it was ‘very painful’ to receive the texts as the 26-year-old must have known she was going to die when they were sent. Her father, Pham Van Thin, said the family paid £30,000 to people smugglers but were told she would be taken by car and aeroplane.
Speaking to CNN from his home in Vietnam, he added: ‘The smugglers said this was a safe route, that people go by airplane, car. ‘If I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go.’ The family earn around $400 (£305) a month and said they scraped together to pay for Phram to have a better life. None of the 39 migrants who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer at an Essex industrial park have been identified. But her family say they fear the worst. Her dad added: ‘I’ve lost both my loved one and my money.’
At first police said the 31 men and eight women were Chinese but some are now thought to be from Vietnam. In the past decade, gangs are thought to have trafficked thousands of migrants with many forced to work in nail bars or cannabis farms to pay off the huge cost of making the trip. Many are told they can make a fortune in the UK and are convinced to buy expensive tickets to get there. In the nine years to 2018, some 3,187 Vietnamese adults and children were referred to the UK authorities as potential victims of human trafficking. The routes differ but the family said that Pham travelled via plane to China and then left for France. Her brother told the BBC she had initially attempted to cross the border into the UK on October 19 but ‘got caught’ and turned back. The last time they heard from her she was believed to be on board the doomed lorry, where temperatures could have been as low as -25C.
She sent a text message at 10.28pm on Tuesday saying: ‘I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed. ‘I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.’
It has emerged that the migrants were either naked or had on minimal clothing when they were found in the container in Purfleet, Essex, on Wednesday morning. Their bodies were found around 1.40am – around three hours after Pham’s text. Another of the suspected victims is Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20. His father Nguyen Dinh Gia said his son told him two weeks ago he planned to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018. He said he then received a call from a Vietnamese man saying: ‘Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened.’ The distraught dad, who has been unable to reach his son, added: ‘It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead.’ Both suspected victims are from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province where many illegal workers come from.
All the bodies have now been removed from the container as the police investigation continues. Bernie Gravett, a former Met Police officer who now advises the EU on human trafficking, said identifying the victims would be difficult because of false documents used. He added: ‘It’s a cruel stage for the families because hundreds if not thousands are currently on these routes, so I appreciate we are getting calls from Vietnam saying my loved one is missing and my loved one may be on that lorry. ‘But they could be on another lorry. We have just found one, others get through undetected and the victims then go on to be exploited in the UK.’
Essex Police continued to question four people over the deaths. Last night officers in Essex detained a 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland at Stansted Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter. Officers have also arrested haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, from Warrington, Cheshire, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking. Mrs Maher is named in documents as the last known owner of the Scania cab, which was registered in Bulgaria and driven by Mo Robinson. The trucker, who is thought to have picked up the container after it arrived in Purfleet in the early hours of Wednesday, was the first to be arrested on suspicion of murder after the grim discovery of the bodies was made. The Mahers said they sold the cab a year ago to a firm in County Monaghan, Ireland, not far from where Mr Robinson lives with his pregnant girlfriend. Detectives have raided four properties during their investigation, which is the biggest murder inquiry since the 2005 London suicide bombings. (Metro)