French trial opens over Vietnamese migrant truck tragedy

By AFP   October 16, 2023 | 10:52 pm PT
French trial opens over Vietnamese migrant truck tragedy
Police stand near a truck where 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in Essex, England, October 2019. Photo by Reuters
A people-smuggling trial was set to open in Paris on Tuesday four years after 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated to death in a refrigerated container on their way to Britain.

Two ringleaders of the operation -- one Romanian and one British -- were convicted at a trial in Britain and sentenced to 27 and 20 years in prison respectively, in 2021.

Other suspects, notably the drivers, received 12 to 20 years, while a Belgian court handed a 15-year term to a Vietnamese man for heading the local cell of the network.

The defendants in the French trial face up to 10 years for involvement in a people-smuggling gang, while four are also charged with involuntary homicide.

According to phone intercepts, they referred to the migrants as "goods" or "chickens."

The defendants include taxi drivers and owners of apartments used to house migrants around Paris, some of whom have argued they were pressured by the smuggling gangs.

But prosecutors said in a statement to the court that the defendants were motivated by money.

Their statement said the case exposed the "risks these networks pose to foreigners seeking exile: the risk of death that awaits them by piling them up like animals in refrigerated trucks."

The French trial is scheduled to last until November 10.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, harrowing accounts emerged from the victims, who had been able to contact their families from the truck.

In a message sent from the container, 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My wrote to her parents: "Mom, dad, I love you very much. I am dying, I can no longer breathe."

Another man left a recording, saying: "I want to come back to my family. Have a good life."

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