Dread-stricken families recount migration hardships

By Nguyen Hai, Duc Hung   October 27, 2019 | 06:37 pm GMT+7

24 Vietnamese families are dreading their offspring might be among the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck in the U.K. after investing tens of thousands of U.S. dollars hoping for a better future.

As of Sunday afternoon, Ha Tinh Province had ten people reported missing in the U.K., including one new case reported on Sunday. In Nghe An there were 14, including nine new cases. 

Some families have sent pictures of their missing children to relatives and acquaintances living in the U.K. and asked them to contact local authorities to help identify the victims.

Sitting inside his humble house in rural Nghen Town in the central Ha Tinh Province, Pham Van Thin, 55, mourns for his 26-year-old daughter Pham Thi Tra My, who has been reported missing in the U.K. 

On October 3, My flew from Vietnam to China, and from China to France before heading out to the U.K.

"On October 23, My texted her mother but she wasn’t paying attention so she didn’t read it that night. The next morning, our youngest son picked up the phone and called My, her phone was still on but she didn’t pick up," said Thin.

Pham Van Thin reported his 26-year-old daughter Pham Thi Tra My has been missing in the U.K. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.

Pham Van Thin reported his 26-year-old daughter Pham Thi Tra My has been missing in the U.K. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.

The father of three children said it is likely his daughter is one of 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex County, east of London.

The text message has since gone viral, horrifying people across the globe. Part of it, quoted by many news agencies, read: "I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe ... I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam ... I am sorry, Mum." 

My was her parents' second child. She dropped out of college in Vinh City, Nghe An Province, and went to Japan to work a few years ago. She returned to Vietnam earlier this year and bought one of her brothers a car so he could work as a taxi driver. She then continued to contact many people searching for an opportunity in the U.K.

Thin said it cost the family VND950 million ($40,800) to send her to the U.K. Somebody she knew wrote her a letter of recommendation so she could get a visa, but there was no contract involved.

Before leaving the country, the people who were to take My to the U.K. asked for an advance of $22,000. They would collect the remaining amount after she arrived in the country.

Since October 23, the tragic day when the 39 dead people were discovered in a refrigerated container, the family has not heard from the person responsible for taking My to the U.K.

Nguyen Thi Phong, My’s mother said: "I advised My to stay home and get a husband, but she told me she would go on just this trip and earn money to pay our debt, get her parents out of poverty, then consider marriage later."

My’s family runs a small business in the district market. Their two other children are grown-up sons without stable jobs.

Hardships and dreams

15 kilometers from My’s family, Nguyen Dinh Gia, a resident of Thanh Loc Commune in the same district reported that his son, Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, has been missing since October 23, the fateful day when the 39 dead people were discovered.

Grief-stricken Nguyen Dinh Gia, father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dinh Luong, fears his son died in the refrigerated container truck in the U.K. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.

Grief-stricken Nguyen Dinh Gia, father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dinh Luong, fears his son died in the refrigerated container truck in the U.K. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.

In August 2017, Luong arrived in France to work through an introduction from some acquaintances. The trip cost the family about $18,000. He flew from Vietnam to Russia, then to Ukraine and later to Germany.

On April 27, 2018, he arrived in France. Luong worked in a restaurant run by Vietnamese people for a year and two months, earning a monthly salary of nearly VND50 million ($2,150).

"On October 10, he phoned home and said he almost paid off all the debt and wanted to go the U.K. to do nails. He would earn 3-4 times the money there.

"Luong told us he had contacted a Vietnamese person in Europe who could help bring him to the U.K. If they succeeded, we were to send them the fee," Gia said.

There are two ways for Luong to be smuggled to the U.K. from France, he told his parents, the difficult and the VIP way.

The difficult way, or, as Luong called it co (grass), involves laborious travels with high chances of getting caught. The VIP way was easier and safer, with lower chances of getting caught. The VIP people are put in canvas-covered trucks or container trucks. Luong chose the VIP way.

On October 21, he informed his relatives via Facebook that he was on his way to Paris. On October 24, a former employer of Luong in France called his father, saying "the vehicle that took your son to the U.K. got into an accident."

Gia's gut feeling is that his son was in the refrigerated truck, but his heart is hoping against hope that his son is safe.

In another central province, Nghe An, Nguyen Dinh Sat, a 65-years-old resident of Do Thanh Commune, Yen Thanh District, said he has not heard from his son Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, since October 23. The family has set up an altar for Tu, fearing the worst.

Nguyen Dinh Sat’s son migrated to Europe for work and has not contacted his family since October 20. Photo by VnExpress/Van Hai.

Nguyen Dinh Sat’s son migrated to Europe for work and has not contacted his family since October 20. Photo by VnExpress/Van Hai.

Tu applied for an official labor export program to Romania in 2018, which cost him VND70 million ($3,000). Once he got to Eastern Europe, Tu continued on to Germany.

On October 20, Tu made a call to his family and said he had arrived in France and was getting ready to immigrate to the UK. The family has not heard from him since that call.

Looking numb, sitting on the house’s front porch, Sat said Tu was the youngest of his five kids. The family had just built a house and he wanted to work abroad so to pay back the debt.

Tu’s family has been steeped in anxiety and fear ever since the news broke. They keep following news reports on TV and newspapers, looking for Tu’s picture.

In another hamlet of Yen Hoi, in the same commune as Tu’s family, the family of Le Tuan have also sunk into despair and anxiety. Their 30-year-old second son Le Van Ha left Vietnam to work overseas three months ago.

First he flew to Malaysia, then to several European countries, waiting for an opportunity to enter the U.K.

In a brief phone call with his father on October 21, Ha said he was in France and was preparing to go to the U.K. Tuan was not well-versed on his son’s journey, so the father only told Ha to take care and to call while he’s on his way there.

"I don't know which company took my son there, he just told me it costs tens of thousands of dollars to go to the U.K. I went to the bank and pledged my two house books, took the money and sent it to him. Now, it seems there is more bad news than good ones, our family is in shock," said Tuan.

On October 23, U.K. emergency services discovered the bodies of 38 adults and one teenager, suspected immigrants, after being alerted that there were people in a refrigerated container truck at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex County, east of London.

Three people, including truck driver, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, the British police said on Friday, the first indication from officials that the deaths were linked to human smuggling.

Police initially said they believed the dead were Chinese but Beijing on Saturday said the nationalities had not yet been confirmed. Chinese and Vietnamese officials are now both working closely with British police, their respective embassies said.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Saturday ordered a probe into the trafficking of Vietnamese citizens as fears mount that most, if not all the 39 people found dead in the refrigerated truck in the U.K., are Vietnamese.

 
 
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