Chinese state media said the “UK must bear responsibility” for the deaths of 39 people discovered in a lorry in England, according to the Guardian.
An editorial in the China-based Global Times criticised the UK for not preventing a repeat of the Dover port tragedy when 58 Chinese were discovered suffocated to death in a lorry container in 2000.
The discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in Essex on Wednesday – initially all believed to be Chinese – provoked the newspaper to ask: “Imagine what thorough measures European countries would take if dozens of Europeans died in the same way?
“Let me ask Britain and the European government why they failed to avoid a similar tragedy after the Dover tragedy? Did they take all the serious remedial action they could have?”
China’s national English language newspaper, under the People’s Daily, the Global Times said internet users in the country have expressed “devastation” about the gruesome discovery.
The newspaper said the story had been viewed more than 610 million times on Sina Weibo, the country’s equivalent of Twitter.
‘Why do these disasters always happen in the UK?
Editor in chief of the Global Times Hu Xijin recalled the Dover port discovery of 58 dead Chinese nationals and the drowning in Morecambe Bay, England of 23 Chinese migrants in 2004.
Xijin wrote on Weibo: “I don’t know if these incidents are connected to the social governance of the UK, but these humanitarian disasters continue to happen in the UK.”
He added: “a simple question: why do these disasters always happen in the UK and not Europe or America?”
On Twitter Xijin wrote “Even if they are illegal immigrants, they have basic rights. Does UK ensure their rights? I know when Chinese died miserably abroad, we Chinese also need to reflect. But that is another matter.”
A statement from the Chinese embassy said they had read reports of the discovery ”with heavy heart.”
China’s ambassador told the country’s media it expected the UK would “conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation” to respect the dead.
“This is a shocking tragedy,” the embassy told state media on Friday. “We express our deep condolences to the families and friends of the victims.”
Vietnamese among the dead
Contrary to earlier reports, the lorry arrived from Zeebrugge to Purfleet, the cab of the lorry having travelled from Ireland via Holyhead to collect the trailer.
A teenager was initially believed to be among the victims but investigating officers say the remains are those of a “young adult woman”. Eight of the 39 victims are women
Pham Thi Tra My’s family said they paid £30,000 for her to be smuggled into Britain but have not heard anything since receiving “a series of desperate texts” from her on Wednesday, including one that read: “dying because I can’t breathe.”
Sources “close to the investigation have now admitted that a number [of victims] are thought to be Vietnamese,” according to the Telegraph.
The lorry has been moved to a hangar at Tilbury docks for further investigation while the first bodies are undergoing autopsies.
Eleven bodies were taken by private ambulance to Chelmsford’s Broomfield Hospital under police escort.
Two more arrests
Detectives have been granted an extra 24 hours to question the 25-year-old driver from Northern Ireland, named locally as Mo Robinson, who was arrested on suspicion of murder.
On Friday, police arrested a man and woman both aged 38, in Warrington, Cheshire, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people.
Essex police have described the case as the “largest murder investigation in our force’s history” and said it will take a “considerable time to come to a conclusion.”
Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres expressed his horror and sadness on Twitter on Wednesday, adding. “Those responsible must be swiftly brought to justice.”
Echoes of 58 dead in Dover
In 2000, the bodies of 58 Chinese nationals were discovered in a container at Dover port. It had also come through the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
The post-mortems on those bodies found asphyxiation as the cause of death through respiratory failure. Two men survived.
The driver, Perry Wacker from the Netherlands, was jailed in 2001, receiving 14 years for the manslaughter of the migrants. Nine Chinese men were jailed for human-smuggling.
Other Chinese migrant deaths
- The Global Times said that ten Chinese being smuggled died in a shipwreck in the Caribbean earlier this month. They, like many Chinese emigrants, had come through Fuijan with their intended destination either the US, Japan, the UK or western Europe.
- A US citizen has been charged with the smuggling deaths of three Chinese migrants in September. Their bodies were found in the boot of his BMW, 48 hours after he had crossed the border from Mexico.
- Twenty three Chinese cockle pickers died in Morecambe Bay in England in April 2004.
In 2009 the Chinese Weekly quoted an illegal immigrant in Portsmouth who said it cost $41,000 (290,000 yaun) to be smuggled into the UK in 2008.