LONDON – London's Vietnamese community has gathered at a vigil and a service to honor the 39 Vietnamese victims who died in a refrigerated truck container in southeastern England.
The community is mourning the unidentified victims, who were trying to enter Britain in hopes of finding greater opportunities. They were discovered dead on Oct. 23 at an industrial park in the town of Grays.
Rev. Simon Nguyen offered prayers for the victims and for their loved ones in Vietnam.
"We show our condolences and sympathies for the people who have lost their lives on the way seeking freedom, dignity and happiness," he said, going on to pray for those who lost their "sons and daughters" in the tragedy.
A Saturday night vigil was followed by a Sunday service at the Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in east London.
Nguyen Hoang Ton, a 19-year-old asylum-seeker from Vietnam who has been in Britain for one year, said the entire Vietnamese diaspora in Britain has been upset by the deaths.
"I feel saddened and sorry for those who have passed away as they are also Vietnamese and also from the same province as mine," he said. "People in the Vietnamese community all share the same feeling," Ton said.
Authorities charged with the grim task of trying to identify the remains are working with officials in Vietnam to try to get information about people who have been reported missing by their families and are thought to have been in transit to England.
The 31 men and eight women are believed to have paid people traffickers for their clandestine transit into England. Police have not provided details about the scheme.
British police have charged 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. They say he drove the cab of the truck to Purfleet, England, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
In Ireland, 22-year-old Eamonn Harrison was arrested Friday on a British warrant. Essex Police in Britain said they had started extradition proceedings to bring him to the U.K. to face charges of manslaughter.
Two men in Vietnam have also been arrested and are suspected of helping organize the smuggling operation.
British officials say they have stepped up enforcement efforts at Purfleet, the port where the container arrived, and reached an agreement to send more immigration officers to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. But stopping people traffickers has long been a difficult task.
Lucy Moreton, a spokeswoman for the ISU, the union for Borders, Immigration, and Customs, says the volume of people coming into the U.K. via clandestine methods is definitely going up, and that it is only possible to search a small amount of the cars and trucks that arrive in Britain's crowded ferry ports.
"It's between one in every 350 to one in every 400 depending on the port," she said. "Once you get here, the reality is you're very unlikely to get caught and very unlikely to be sent home unless you break the law."