by NADEEM BADSHAH
TOUGHER punishments are needed for people trafficking gangs after 39 people were found dead in a refrigerated trailer, lawyers and charities have urged.
They have called for a fresh clampdown on criminals convicted of making a fortune from smuggling migrants to the UK, and more investment towards strengthening British border security.
Police last Friday (8) confirmed the names of the 39 victims, who are all Vietnamese nationals, whose bodies were recovered from a refrigerated truck in in
Grays, Essex, last month.
Earlier this month, more than 30 migrants from Pakistan were found hidden in a lorry in southern France, prosecutors said on November 2. They said the driver, who was also from Pakistan, was detained.
Lawyers have revealed that victims trafficked from south Asia are often taken to Moscow in Russia, and then travel by foot or car through jungles and forests over the Slovakia border. From there, people are sent to Austria, followed by other European countries in lorries or containers.
The human trafficking trade is estimated to be a worth $32 billion (£25bn) annually.
Immigration lawyer Harjap Singh Bhangal, from GLS Solicitors, said: “Many don’t know that more money is made of out of people trafficking than drug smuggling.
“Yet, whereas we always hear of a ‘war on drugs’, we never hear of a war on people trafficking. Criminals regularly use the same routes and same methods to bring people to Europe and charge their victims thousands of dollars each.”
He added: “While talking tough on immigration is a fashion trend in parliament, these gangs bring in people in groups of 50 or so, and many lorries a day come in undetected, despite the UK having thermal heat sensors and other detecting technology.
“Punishing migrants won’t solve this situation in the same way that punishing drug abusers doesn’t stop the drug trade.”
Experts said some victims paid thousands of pounds to guarantee a safe passage to the UK, where they hoped to do paid work that would enable them to send
money to their families back home.
Laura Durán, from children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK, expressed concern that harder border restrictions and immigration procedures would make children
more vulnerable to criminal gangs.
She told Eastern Eye: “Children and young people in migration face significant risks of harm, including trafficking and exploitation either en route or in the UK due to the unavailability of safe and legal routes to migrate and harsh procedures once they arrive to regularise their immigration status.
“This case is a tragic example of the risks facing individuals who cannot migrate in a safe and legal way.
“Threats of immigration penalties are consistently used by traffickers to ensure children do not disclose to any public authority as they fear removal.
“Children are told, ‘you’re illegal in this country. If you run away or say anything about what happened to you, then they’re going to deport you back to your country.’”
Prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel paid their respects to the victims by laying wreaths in Thurrock, Essex, and signing a book of condolence.
Meanwhile, the Unseen charity helpline received over 7,400 calls and messages last year, a 68 per cent increase on 2017.
The charity made more than 2,280 referrals to police and other agencies, a 58 per cent rise on 2017, with potential victims from India and Pakistan remaining in the top 10 as the most common nationalities suffering these crimes .
The number of potential victims from Pakistan rose to 113 last year from 55 in 2017, while the number of Indians fell from 95 to 87, the research found.
And people from Bangladesh and India were among the top four nationalities of victims of people trapped as slaves by fami
lies or gangs and forced to carry out household chores.
Labour MP Rushanara Ali told Eastern Eye: “Those fleeing poverty and war are increasingly forced into the hands of criminal trafficking gangs whose sole purpose is to exploit them.
“The culture created by the government’s hostile environment policy only makes things worse for those seeking refuge. It is vital that safe, legal routes to asylum are established to prevent people undertaking these highly dangerous journeys.
“Without legal routes to claim asylum, smugglers and traffickers will carry on exploiting vulnerable people, and avoidable deaths like the tragedy in Essex last week, will continue.”
Amjad Malik, an immigration solicitor in Greater Manchester, said: “Human trafficking is a menace which we can jointly defeat by deterrent, strict laws, punitive measures and promotion of legalised immigration.
“Lots of people lost their lives in the surge for economic betterment. The international community must catch the culprits and masterminds benefiting from the spree.”
Home secretary Patel has vowed to secure the UK’s borders “against a wide range of threats, including people trafficking”.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has called for an urgent inquiry into the safety and availability of routes of entry into the UK and a new Europewide system on asylum management.
It has also recommended a system of humanitarian visas.
Essex Police, the local force investigating the incident at Grays, confirmed that the 39 victims’ families had been informed, without making further comment.
Their bodies were found in the early hours of October 23 on a truck that had entered Britain on a ferry from Belgium.
Police in Britain have charged the driverof the refrigerated lorry, 25yearold Maurice Robinson, of Northern Ireland, with manslaughter, money laundering and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Robinson was remanded in custody at Chelmsford magistrates’ court. He was not asked to indicate pleas and will next appear at the Old Bailey on November 25.
Police are also in the process of extraditing another suspect from Ireland and searching for others who may be involved.
Vietnam has arrested 11 people in connection with the deaths, on suspicion of helping people travel abroad with the intention of staying overseas illegally.
None have been formally charged.
The 31 Pakistani migrants were discovered in France during a routine check on a motorway near the Italian border, French prosecutors said. The migrants, who included three teenagers, were handed over to the Italian authorities in accordance with immigration procedures.
“We will try and establish if we can trace it back to a network and backers as we always do in this type of case,” prosecutors in the southeastern city of Nice said.