Statement on 39 people found dead in lorry container

23 October 2019

We’re shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news today of the 39 people found dead in a lorry container in Grays, Essex, UK. Our thoughts are with the families of these people and all involved in the case.

The authorities are in the very early stages of their investigations, and at the point of writing it is unclear whether the people who so tragically have lost their lives, are victims of trafficking.

Human trafficking involves recruiting, harbouring or transporting people and forcing them into a situation with no way out, for the purposes of their exploitation.

While people smuggling can be an element of trafficking, the terms can often be incorrectly confused as meaning the same thing.

What this tragic case highlights are the extraordinary and dangerous risks that vulnerable people take in order to provide for their families, and as such may accept precarious job offers and make risky decisions in their quest for a better life.

With complex migration pathways, such as journeys that mean crossing multiple borders, these may begin as cases of people smuggling, but can turn into human trafficking along the journey, especially when a debt is involved.

In the case of Vietnamese people, it often starts with a big debt to pay for travel, often with family homes taken as collateral, which leaves them controlled by the criminals who enticed them to take these risks. At the end of their journey, victims are often trapped, reliant on their traffickers and extremely vulnerable.

To solve human trafficking it is important that governments are creating safe places and methods for vulnerable and at-risk people to seek help. This then makes it harder for anyone who has the intention to exploit others, to do so.

This case should also highlight the fact that the UK’s tough stance on immigration contributes to people being pushed into taking huge risks, exploited and trapped in modern slavery. Immigration might be a contentious issue, but surely, we can all agree that people being forced to travel into the UK in a refrigerated lorry is simply not right. We have to develop mechanisms for people to migrate safely.

We have analysed the trafficking of Vietnamese people into Europe in our “Precarious Journey” report, which you can read about here. By identifying the methods by which victims are trafficked, we are better equipped to identify policy changes in Vietnam, the UK and transit countries, that would better protect victims and ultimately end the practice.

For press enquiries please contact, Jakub Sobik, Communications Manager, at j.sobik@antislavery.org or 07889 936 383.