Night crossings: Germany braces as Belarus route swells migrant flows

By Thomas Escritt

EISENHUETTENSTADT, Germany (Reuters) – Zhina ran in the dead of night through a forest near the Belarusian-Polish border. Crucifix clenched in her pocket, she slipped with her mother and younger sister through a hole cut in the wire fence by men she believed were Belarusian police.

Last week, the 17-year-old from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan arrived at a rapidly swelling refugee camp in eastern Germany, a few km (miles) from the Polish frontier. She was one of more than 100 refugees arriving each day as news of the Belarus corridor to Europe spreads around the Middle East.

Authorities in Brandenburg, the eastern German state that is housing most of the new arrivals, are calling for tougher action against what they see as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s hybrid war against the European Union – allowing migrants to filter through Belarusian borders into Poland or neighboring Baltic states in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“We are just managing the symptoms here,” said Michael Stuebgen, Brandenburg’s interior minister. “The actual problem is the people smuggling organized by the Belarus regime.”

All Iraqis now know about the Belarusian route to the EU, said Zhina’s mother Nihaya, who paid traffickers $15,000 to arrange the journey for herself and her daughters.

Facing crippling sanctions over his violent crackdown on protests over his disputed re-election victory last year, Lukashenko has opened his country’s borders to much of the Middle East and Africa, knowing that many will use the opportunity to pass through into the EU, starting with Poland.

In August, Stuebgen said, 200 arrived from Belarus at the camp in Eisenhuettenstadt, on Germany’s border with Poland. Now, 100-150 are arriving daily. Many are in a bad way – of 120 who arrived on Wednesday, seven tested positive for COVID-19.

Poland and Lithuania have erected fences along their border with Belarus, but few refugees want to stop in either country.

DESTINATION: GERMANY VIA POLAND

Under EU asylum rules, they have to stay in the first EU country they are registered in – so refugees wanting to live in affluent Germany – the most desirable destination for many EU-bound migrants – to dodge the authorities on the way there.

“Everything happened after midnight: it was too dangerous during the day,” said Zhina, describing how men, whom she believed to be Belarusian policemen, had trucked her and dozens of other migrants to the border and cut a hole through the fence to let them into Poland.

The three sneaked through forest on the Polish side of the border, dodging border guards flashing torches, hitching rides or getting driven by smugglers across Poland, thereby avoiding registration there, before reaching Germany.

The crucifix, a gift from her mother, was safely stowed in her pocket out of fear its chain would snag on a branch.

Her mother dreams of settling in Hamburg, where Zhina wants to study engineering at university. If successful, she and her 12-year-old sister Zhino will join the million or so migrants who settled in Germany in 2015, many of whom are now thriving.

But Brandenburg, which has the headache of settling the hundreds of new arrivals in a former police barracks that it has tripled in size with the aid of heated tents, is calling for firmer action from the German government and the EU.

Stuebgen called for “a landing ban in all of Europe for all airlines that contribute to this human trafficking” – which could include Belarus’s Belavia, which flew Zhina from Istanbul to Minsk, but also Gulf airlines, officials said.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

In a first, U.S. warns of dangers of systemic racism in human trafficking report

By Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An annual U.S. State Department report released on Thursday said discriminatory policies perpetuated human trafficking, drawing a link between the two for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the Trafficking in Persons report that systemic racism creates inequities, in turn undercutting Washington’s battle against human trafficking.

A State Department official said it was the first time the report drew a connection to systemic racism.

The United States has been re-examining its treatment of African Americans since nationwide protests last year sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer.

U.S. authorities have warned of increased threats from white supremacist groups.

“While U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking have grown in magnitude and sophistication over the years, the United States still struggles with how to address the disparate effects of human trafficking on racial minority communities,” the report said.

It cited the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on human trafficking, as traffickers capitalized on the pandemic and governments diverted resources to fight the health crisis.

The report looked at countries and territories and ranked them into four tiers, downgrading countries such as Ethiopia but upgrading others.

ETHIOPIA

The United States faulted Ethiopia for not demonstrating increased efforts to eliminate trafficking.

The report highlighted the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region that has killed thousands of people, displaced more than 2 million people and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.

The report said that since the conflict began in November, international organizations increasingly reported armed actors were responsible for committing human rights abuses and gender-based violence, including potential trafficking crimes.

Ethiopians seeking asylum in Sudan were increasingly vulnerable to trafficking and unaccompanied children in the conflict areas may be vulnerable to recruitment by non-state armed groups, the report also warned.

BELARUS

Belarus was cited for “key achievements” even if, as the report said, resident Alexander Lukashenko’s government did not “fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

The report made no mention of Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on ongoing protests over his claim of victory in a 2020 presidential election widely seen as being rigged.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, was cited for “making significant efforts” toward eliminating human trafficking, the report said.

However, the government failed to meet minimum standards in a number of areas, including fining, jailing and deporting foreign workers for prostitution or immigration violations even though many may have been trafficking victims, the report said.

ISRAEL

The report said Israel, Washington’s closest Middle Eastern ally, had worked to eliminate human trafficking, but its efforts “were not serious and sustained” compared to the previous reporting period even accounting for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victim identification policies “sometimes re-traumatized” victims and delayed their access to necessary care, sometimes for years, while the government reduced its overall efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers, it said.

Official policies toward foreign workers “increased their vulnerability to trafficking,” the report said, while the only police unit officially charged with identifying trafficking victims remained under-staffed for a fifth straight year.

TURKEY

The United States added Turkey to the list of countries implicated in the use of child soldiers over the past year, placing a NATO ally for the first time in such a list, in a move likely to further complicate fraught ties between Ankara and Washington.

MALAYSIA

The State Department downgraded Malaysia to the worst ranking after a string of complaints by rights groups and U.S. authorities over the alleged exploitation of migrant workers in plantations and factories.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Jonathan Landay, Doyinsola Oladipo and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Phil Stewart and Howard Goller)

Trafficked ‘brides’ stuck in China due coronavirus after fleeing abuse

Reuters
By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Coronavirus travel restrictions have forced anti-trafficking groups to suspend rescue operations of Vietnamese and Cambodian “brides” from China, with some now in hiding having escaped the homes of men holding them against their will.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Southeast Asian women have been lured to China by criminal networks promising lucrative jobs, only to be sold as brides – some to abusive men – as China grapples with a gender imbalance.

Charities in Vietnam and Cambodia said some women who fled this year have been detained and shut off from communication, while others who are “not under immediate threat of being killed” have been advised to sit tight.

“Some say the husband is mentally ill, they’re being beaten, maybe prostituted to the neighbours, their lives are in immediate danger at this point,” said Michael Brosowski, head of Hanoi-based Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

“They say they have to go, they have to go now. All we can do is advise them on a safe place to hide.”

Blue Dragon rescued one women every three days on average from China in 2019, but was forced to freeze operations in late January as coronavirus travel restrictions took hold.

“Getting to remote places, it’s just not possible now – and even if you could, the borders are closed,” Brosowski told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While Blue Dragon remains in touch with 27 women who have called for help in 2020, Phnom Penh-based anti-trafficking charity Chab Dai said it has lost contact with some who fled their abusers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Chab Dai programme manager Chan Saron said in early January, one women reported being transferred to “government-controlled detention” and held “under very strict conditions” before contact was lost.

“According to Chinese law, survivors are often treated as illegal migrants,” Saron said. “We receive dozens of cases like this but there could be many more.”

A Chinese assistant to the Cambodian consul in Shanghai said little could be done to assist women who had escaped their captors and were now uncontactable.

“If we can get in touch with the women, we will find a way to help,” she said, giving her name only as Hayley. “But with no information, how could we find them?”

Authorities in Cambodia, Vietnam and China have in recent years tried to combat the trafficking of “brides” but campaigners fear a ban on marriage broker services has driven the trend further underground and put women at higher risk.

Chinese men typically pay brokers between $10,000 and $20,000 for a foreign wife, a 2016 United Nations report said.

Criminal gangs scour poor regions for young women and pitch a dream life in China, where there is a surplus of some 40 million men – a legacy of Beijing’s one-child policy.

Targets are coaxed by the promise of a life of relative luxury in China, and while some do marry happily and send money home to their families, others end are facing sexual abuse, violence and exploitation.

(Reporting by Matt Blomberg, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Migrants raped and trafficked as U.S. and Mexico tighten borders, charity says

By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central American migrants are being kidnapped, raped and trafficked in Mexico as they seek to enter the United States amid a migration crackdown, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

In Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo city – separated from the United States by the Rio Grande – almost 80% of migrants treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the first nine months of 2019 said they had been victims of violence, including kidnapping.

“They’re treated as if they aren’t really people,” Sergio Martin, Mexico coordinator for MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’ve suffered violence … and what they find on their journey is more violence.”

Mexico has ramped up efforts to stop Central American migrants, often fleeing violent crime and poverty, reaching the U.S. border under pressure from President Donald Trump who threatened to put import tariffs on its goods.

It has deployed the National Guard to stop migrants crossing northwards and increased detentions and deportations.

Mexico’s immigration authority and interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to apply immigration laws while respecting migrants’ human rights.

The United States has sent 57,000 non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, restricted asylum criteria and limited the number of claims it receives daily at each port of entry.

In September, 18 of 41 patients in Nuevo Laredo who had been sent back to Mexico to wait for U.S. asylum processing told MSF they had recently been kidnapped.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We think that as a direct result of many of these policies there are people who are suffering more violence,” said Martin.

“It’s easier for them to fall into human trafficking networks or into extortion networks, and no one look for them.”

MSF found 78% of almost 3,700 patients in Mexico who sought mental health care in 2018 and 2019 showed signs of exposure to violence, including assault, sexual violence and torture.

Some patients said they had been kidnapped in Mexico for long periods for forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment to work for criminal groups.

Almost one in four female migrants told MSF they had experienced sexual violence on their journeys.

The MSF data was based on some 26,000 health consultations with migrants in 2018 and 2019, testimonials and a survey.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Daughter’s murder led activist to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

By Christine Murray

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When a worried parent calls for help finding a missing child, Norma Ledezma says she often immediately has a sense of whether they are likely to be found alive.

Seventeen years after her daughter Paloma disappeared in northern Mexico, Ledezma has helped hundreds of families cope with the psychological and legal aftermath such cases, and experience has taught her how to react.

“You have to learn to understand human behavior, the victim’s environment, the possible perpetrator’s environment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We’ve found a lot dead and unfortunately most are still missing, that’s the reality.”

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner, is one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

The 53-year-old founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002 and has had some success.

She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked.

Most, however, are never found.

Mexico’s president has promised justice for the more than 40,000 people who disappeared in the country, many in the last decade of corruption and violence fuelled by drug gangs.

But civil society groups have said the government is yet to implement the measures it promised.

They have often stepped in to do the job of authorities – particularly where investigators are unwilling or unable to take on organized crime.

Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones.

About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data.

Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.

Paloma left the house for school in March 2002 and never came home. Her killer was never found.

When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay.

“I saw very concretely, very clearly the impunity and the lack of justice…that unfortunately is still missing in Chihuahua and Mexico,” she said.

It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals.

“I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award, named after the British activist who ran Amnesty International, will be given to one of the three finalists on Feb. 19 in Geneva.

(Reporting by Christine Murray, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled criminal charges accusing two correctional officers of falsifying records on the night financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a New York jail cell.

Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were charged in an indictment with making false records and conspiracy, in connection with their actions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan.

Epstein, 66, a well-connected money manager, was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 10 at the MCC.

His suicide came a little over a month after he was arrested and charged with trafficking dozens of underage girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 to 2005. Epstein had pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by New York Newsroom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Chris Reese)

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece on Monday, officials said.

The discovery came 10 days after 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants, were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck near London. Two people have been charged in Britain and eight in Vietnam over the deaths.

The refrigeration system in the truck where the migrants were found in northern Greece had not been turned on, and none of the migrants was injured, though some asked for medical assistance, a Greek police official said.

Police had stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Greece is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in arrivals of migrants and refugees since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

Most of them are reaching Greek Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast via boats but a large number also come overland, using a river border crossing with Turkey.

Road accidents, mainly in northern Greece, involving migrants trying to cross into other countries have become more frequent in recent years. Police have arrested dozens of people believed to be involved in human trafficking so far in 2019.

About 34,000 asylum seekers and refugees are being held in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands under conditions which human rights groups have slammed as appalling.

The conservative government that came to power in July has vowed to move up to 20,000 off the islands and deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of 2020.

Arrivals of unaccompanied children have also increased. About 1,000 minors have arrived since July, the Greek labor ministry said, with the total number estimated at over 5,000.

A fifth of them are now missing, the ministry said, pledging to build more facilities and shelters for migrant children.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Focused look at human trafficking could reveal better data, top US official says

A victim of forced labor speaks during a Reuters interview in a village at Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Focused look at human trafficking could reveal better data, top US official says
By Ellen Wulfhorst

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United States could fight human trafficking effectively with more refined measuring tools which could distinguish young victims from old, or those trapped in domestic jobs from forced farm work, its top anti-trafficking official said on Tuesday.

Ambassador-at-Large John Richmond, speaking after a top-level government anti-trafficking commission meeting, said targeted questions investigating slavery could expose detailed – and possibly more useful – results.

Some 24.9 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of forced labor, working in factories or on building sites, farms and fishing boats, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.

The ILO has called the estimate conservative.

Counting and classifying people trapped in slavery in a targeted “industry-specific and geographically restricted” way could refine results, such as distinguishing boys trafficked for sex from adults trafficked into farming, Richmond explained.

“Instead of measuring how much trafficking is there in Kenya, ask the question ‘How much forced labor victims are in the domestic workers’ industry in metropolitan Nairobi?'” he said by way of example.

Diverse methods of measuring slavery would turn up “a different set of questions, a different set of traffickers, a different set of victims, a different set of coercive means,” Richmond said.

“I think we have some room to grow in terms of our ability, in terms of developing good methodologies around how to measure the prevalence of trafficking.”

“It would be really helpful as we move forward to figure out … what programs are actually having an impact.”

Richmond, who took up his post at the end of 2018, serves as Ambassador-at-Large and leads the State Department’s anti-trafficking office.

He spoke to reporters following a meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a cabinet-level group started in 2000.

Top government officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported on progress and plans their departments and agencies have to fight human trafficking.

Many detailed outreach and training efforts, plans to weed out forced labor in supply chains and support programs for survivors.

The U.S. Congress approved an anti-trafficking program in 2017 which it has funded with $75 million so far, with the aim of measuring the prevalence of trafficking, Richmond said.

“My hope is just that more people would do studies and try different methodologies and test them against each other,” he said. “I think there are ways that we can improve and work in this area.”

An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the United States, according to the Global Slavery Index which is published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths
By Peter Nicholls

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested a man and a woman on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.

As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, a human rights activist said at least one of them might have been a Vietnamese woman.

Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.

“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Police said they had detained the man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck in the early hours of Wednesday.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offense, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

The victims – 31 men and eight women – are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased.

Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.

“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath … I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, Mom,” the message said according to Hoa.

She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.

“Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck,” Hoa said on Twitter.

VietHome, an organization for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi’s London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.

BRITAIN ‘HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY’

China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

“It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death,” the widely read tabloid said.

It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.

The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.

The refrigeration unit had traveled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town’s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.

The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 p.m. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.

Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese
By Simon Dawson

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police were given extra time on Thursday to question a driver arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found dead in a refrigerated truck near London, in an investigation focused on human trafficking.

Officers searched three properties in the County Armagh area of Northern Ireland. The driver has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation said he was Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province.

Paramedics and police found the bodies of 31 men and eight women on Wednesday in a truck container on an industrial estate at Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (32 km) east of London.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In the biggest tragedy, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck in 2000 at the port of Dover.

“We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement, adding further clarification was being sought with police.

Essex police said their priority was ensuring dignity for the victims during their inquiry.

“Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer,” police said in a statement, saying that would be a time-consuming operation.

Police were given permission from local magistrates to detain the 25-year-old driver for an additional 24 hours on Thursday.

The trailer part of the truck arrived at Purfleet docks in Essex, southern England, from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge – as did the vehicle involved in 2000.

“ULTIMATE DREAM”

Its red cab unit, which had “Ireland” emblazoned on the windscreen along with the message “The Ultimate Dream”, entered Britain via Holyhead in north Wales, having started its journey in Dublin, police said.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15 from its depot in County Monaghan at a rate of 275 euros ($305) a week, Irish broadcaster RTE said. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for, RTE added.

The discovery of the bodies was made at 1.40 a.m. just over an hour after the container arrived in Purfleet, not far from the industrial estate in Grays.

The vehicle has been moved to a secure site at nearby Tilbury Docks where forensic work can take place. Officials have set up a book of condolence at civic offices in Grays.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

Shaun Sawyer, national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said thousands of people were seeking to come to the United Kingdom illegally. While they were able to rescue many of those smuggled in, Britain was perceived by organized crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.

“You can’t turn the United Kingdom into a fortress. We have to accept that we have permeable borders,” he told BBC radio.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, albeit that may be complicated by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union.

“There is simply not enough being done in terms of security, in terms of the protection of vehicles across Europe,” Richard Burnett told BBC TV.

 

(Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence amd Andrew Cawthorne)