On Thursday, millions of Chinese were expressing grief online after news reports said that the 39 people found dead in refrigerated truck-trailer in Essex in the UK were from China as state media reports here said the deceased could have been victims of a human trafficking ring.
Most messages on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platforms extended condolences to the victims and their families while calling for a thorough investigation into the gruesome incident.
Reports said the truck on which the 39 bodies were found on Wednesday in Essex, arrived in England by passing through the port of Zeebrugge, a large container, bulk cargo and passenger ferry terminal port in the municipality of Bruges, Belgium.
The Chinese foreign ministry said they were verifying details of the case and were in close communication with authorities in the UK to collect and confirm more details.
According to Chinese state media, the initial news of the nationality of the dead garnered more than 610 million views and 149,000 comments by Thursday night.
Some citizens and state media reports recollected previous human trafficking cases where Chinese nationals had died.
“In 2000, the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found in a truck in Dover. That truck was also driven from Zeebrugge to the UK and later confirmed to be a part of a Chinese gang smuggling route,” the tabloid, Global Times, said in a report.
The tabloid quoted Liu Guofu, an immigration law expert at the Beijing Institute of Technology, indicating that it was a case of smuggling of humans.
“The illegal immigrants usually work in construction, restaurants or sweat factories. Some women may be forced to be sex workers abroad,” Liu said.
Liu added that though illegal immigration from China to other countries has been declining in general in recent years, “…still quite a number of people are smuggling themselves into the UK and this case in Essex might reveal the tip of an iceberg of issues.”
“An article by Chinese Weekly in 2016 quoted an illegal immigrant in Portsmouth saying it cost 290,000 yuan (US$41,003) to be smuggled to the UK in 2008. Many Chinese immigrants leave via Fujian and their destinations are usually the US, the UK, Western European countries or Japan,” the Global Times report said.