NGHE AN, Vietnam: As many as 20 Vietnamese citizens are feared among 39 people found dead in a truck in Britain this week, according to families and community organisers Saturday (Oct 26), as one of the alleged truck owners denied involvement in the tragedy.
British police initially said all of the 31 men and eight women found early Wednesday in a refrigerated lorry in an industrial park in Grays, east of London, were believed to be Chinese nationals.
Four people have been held over the incident, which has shocked Britain and shed light on dangerous trafficking routes into Europe taken by undocumented migrants.
Several Vietnamese families now fear their relatives are among the victims, who may have been carrying falsified Chinese passports.
Britain-based community group VietHome said it had received "photos of nearly 20 people reported missing, age 15-45" from Vietnam, a popular source for smuggled migrants looking to better their lives in the UK.
Nguyen Dinh Gia told AFP Saturday he got a call from his son two weeks ago saying he was planning to go to Britain where he hoped to work in a nail salon.
His 20-year-old son Nguyen Dinh Luong had been living in France and said the journey to Britain would cost 11,000 pounds (US$14,000).
But Gia received a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying "Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened," he recounted to AFP.
"I fell to the ground when I heard that," Gia said. "It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead," he added.
A 26-year-old Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra My is also believed to be among the victims after her family received a text message from her hours before the migrants were discovered.
"I'm sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn't succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe," she said in the message confirmed by her brother Pham Manh Cuong.
He received another message from her a few hours later saying: "Please try to work hard to pay the debt for mummy, my dear," according to a text sent at 12.15pm Vietnam time on Wednesday, seen by AFP.
The family, who live in a bare home with a corrugated tin roof in central Vietnam, have asked Vietnamese officials to help find the missing woman.
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The truck carrying the migrants arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames estuary on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge just over an hour before ambulance crews called the police at 1.40 am local time.
The driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested at the scene.
A married couple was held in Warrington in northwest England on Friday, including a woman who allegedly once owned the truck that carried the container, according to media reports.
The pair denied any involvement and said the truck had been sold to an Irish company more than a year ago.
"It's nothing to do with us now," said one of the accused, Joanna Maher, as quoted by The Times.