39 – and how many more?
Part 1

November 1, 2019

In a series of 3 articles Le Thi Hong Luong, Blue Dragon’s Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, discusses the causes of the recent tragedy in Essex, UK, and proposes some solutions.

Misery in dreamland

Thirty-nine people were found dead in a lorry in an Essex industrial park on October 23, 2019. Immediately, that horrific event caught the attention of the press and social media all over the world.

On October 24, UK police initially identified the 39 victims as Chinese nationals. But in small houses in central Vietnam more than 12,000 km away, anxiety increased and a mournful atmosphere enveloped fathers, mothers, and relatives who were not able to contact their loved ones also on a journey to the dreamland of the UK.

At the time of writing, there has not been confirmation as to who these people are and where they are from but it is a terrible and unacceptable disaster. No one can imagine how they suffered on their many-hour journey in that fateful truck. At Blue Dragon, our hearts go out to their families and friends.

And although the identities of the victims have not been determined, we must accept that many Vietnamese people illegally migrate to European countries in that way.

There is a long history of Vietnamese migration after the American-Vietnam War. When relatives and friends reach their destination countries, they help others back in Vietnam. Gradually smuggling rings have formed to organize illegal entry for Vietnamese people into Taiwan, Canada, Australia and European countries, especially the UK.

Central Vietnam has extremely harsh weather conditions and is one of the poorest regions in the country. Impoverished people with unstable jobs and a low level of education do not qualify for legal jobs overseas. However, they are attracted by stories of a fancy life in the UK.

At some point, they become aware of how hard illegal trips are and what kinds of jobs they will have to do at the destination. With the hope of changing their life and the pride of becoming a Viet Kieu (a Vietnamese person living abroad), they borrow a lot of money or pledge their assets to pay huge sums of money, $10,000 US to $40,000 US (according to various reports) to smugglers to start an arduous journey across different countries and seas.

Last year, the world press was astonished when 152 Vietnamese tourists went missing after they arrived in Taiwan. This October, all eyes turned to Vietnam again when there was evidence that there were Vietnamese people among the 39 victims of the deadly UK truck incident.

It is certain that people who successfully cross the border to other countries face many dangers. They are very vulnerable because they have illegally entered another country without immigration documents, and in addition face language and cultural barriers.

Worse than that, on their shoulders is the burden of debt and family expectations and they have to depend entirely on smugglers and organized crime rings.

Finally, at the destination, many become victims of modern slavery and are forced to work on cannabis farms or are exploited in factories and in mining. They face health hazards, receive low wages and are at risk of being arrested at any time.

How many people have illegally crossed the border and how many have perished on journeys of months or years? No one knows. According to the UK National Referral Mechanism, over recent years more than 100 nationalities have made up the referrals, with Albanians and Vietnamese nationals the next most commonly reported potential victims of slavery after the British.

Part 2 of this analysis will be posted on Sunday November 3

Read Part 2 ›


Le Thi Hong Luong, Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam.

Le Thi Hong Luong, Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam.

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