DIEN CHAU, Vietnam (AP) — The bodies of 16 of the 39 Vietnamese who died when human traffickers carried them by truck to England last month were repatriated to their homeland on Wednesday and have been taken to their families.
The bodies arrived on a flight that landed in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, the news website VNExpress reported. The website published photos of ambulances that transported the bodies to their home provinces south of Hanoi.
The bodies were found Oct. 23 in the English town of Grays, east of London. Police say the victims were aged between 15 and 44.
The 31 men and eight women are believed to have paid human traffickers for their clandestine transit into England. Several suspects have been arrested in the U.K. and Vietnam.
Hoang Lanh, father of 18-year-old victim Hoàng Van Tiep, said by phone Tuesday that he had been informed by a local government official that his son’s remains would be brought home Wednesday, along with those of six other victims from Dien Chau district in Nghe An province, including Tiep’s cousin Nguyen Van Hung.
“It’s bittersweet, I can’t believe I would have to welcome my son back like this,” Lanh said. “I’m devastated but I am happy to have him back with us soon.”
Hoàng Thi Nhiem, Tiep’s sister, said her family had received her brother’s body shortly before noon.
“We are very sad, but we are happy now that he has been brought back to the place where he was born to be with his family and surrounded with love from the family,” she said. “He wouldn’t be able to rest in peace if he had still been in England.”
Another victim’s family expressed their sadness ahead of receiving the bodies of their loved one.
“I have been sad for a month and I can’t eat anything,” said Nguyen Thanh Le, father of 33-year-old Nguyen Van Hung. “My son died far away from his home and I had to wait for a long time, but today his body is coming back and tomorrow is the funeral.”
The British ambassador to Vietnam, Gareth Ward, said Wednesday that the two countries will continue to work together “to prevent human trafficking and protect vulnerable people here.”
“We will continue working with Vietnamese authorities to investigate the criminal acts that led to this tragedy,” he said in a video statement. “In the coming time, I plan to visit the affected communities to express my condolences and reinforce the British government’s commitment to preventing anything like this from happening again.”
Legal proceedings in the case are continuing in England.
On Monday in London, a trucker who allegedly was the driver of the vehicle in which the 39 bodies were found pleaded guilty to plotting with others to assist illegal immigration and acquiring criminal property.
Northern Irish truck driver Maurice Robinson accused of being part of an international people-smuggling ring, wasn’t asked to enter pleas to 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Police say he drove the cab of the truck to the English port of Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Also Monday, British police said they had arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. Two other men have been arrested in Britain and Ireland in connection with the case.