By Lydia O’Kane
British police said 31 men and eight women were found dead inside a refrigerated container truck in Essex on Wednesday morning. The 25-year-old truck driver, who is from Northern Ireland, is still being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder but has not been charged. The ICMC’s Secretary General Mons. Robert Vitillo said, “we need always to condemn the crime of trafficking and even this type of human smuggling of people and the same time we have to understand the need for us to be able to develop fair and just ways for people, first of all, to the able to seek refuge if their lives are in danger or if they are victims of persecution for religious or ethnic or for other political reasons.”
A global scourge
The Secretary General noted that this type of people smuggling is happening all over the world and “that in every region there are people that are driven to this kind of smuggling…” Many of those, he added, have legitimate claims to refugee status, but don’t know how to access their rights. He also pointed out that people smuggling is happening not only by lorry but by train, bus, trucks and by sea, all of which, he said, “the smugglers are benefiting from”.
Increased collaboration, Global Compact
It’s understood that the lorry and the container made separate journeys before ending up in Purfleet, Essex. The container went from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, where it arrived early on Wednesday morning. Mons Vitillo underlined that increased collaboration between police authorities and immigration authorities is needed between countries, but at the same time, he added, “we need to stop the root causes for this contracting with smugglers and an important way to do that is to implement the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, that was passed last year by many, many states and also at the national and local level to find new ways, such as the alternative pathways developed by some of the Churches…” The ICMC, he said, has been very active in promoting private sponsorships so that people can seek refuge safely.
Britain’s National Crime Agency warned three years ago that people smuggling using containers on ferries was “the highest-priority organized immigration crime threat.” Very often, Mons. Vitillo explained, people find themselves confronted with a situation of human trafficking which is a new form of slavery, “because people cannot afford the prices that are charged and very often these smugglers take the legal documents of the people as well, until they pay off their debts.”