Some bad news, some good news: freezer truck passengers recall ordeal

By Viet Quoc   September 16, 2021 | 05:05 pm GMT+7
Some bad news, some good news: freezer truck passengers recall ordeal
15 people found in a freezer truck trying to pass a Covid-19 checkpoint in Binh Thuan. Photo by VnExpress/Tu Huynh
The 15 migrants desperate to get home from HCMC and Binh Duong did not expect a freezer truck ride and a police bust.

Now they are relieved on hearing they will be helped to their destination.

Ha Van Danh, his son and 13 others have spent two nights in a quarantine facility in Binh Thuan Province's Ham Tan District.

A few days ago, the group had tried to get out of HCMC and return to their hometowns, the pandemic having driven them to desperation.

But he never expected to be jammed inside a freezer truck, and be caught by police officers on the way.

"Almost everyone (in the group) has already vacated their rented places in Ho Chi Minh City. If we return now, we have no idea how to survive at this time (of the pandemic)," said Danh.

Danh, 31, had left the central province of Quang Tri for Ho Chi Minh City decades ago to make a living. He worked several jobs, including manual ones, to make ends meet. Over the last three months, his life had been turned upside down after the novel coronavirus got to his neighborhood in Binh Tan District.

His 7-year-old son, who had traveled from his hometown to Ho Chi Minh City to spend summer with his parents, had also got stuck because of social distancing restrictions.

He has already had to miss a year and with the current Covid-19 situation, he could possibly miss another chance to enter first grade. So while his wife stayed, Danh decided to take his son back home to Quang Tri somehow.

Through an acquaintance, Danh managed to get hold of someone who could reportedly help people return to their hometowns by car. The father and son were grouped together with other people also desperate to get home. They were asked to get tested for Covid-19 and get a negative test result certificate.

On September 12, they were picked up by cars at their homes. They then switched to different vehicles as they were taken on winding paths to evade Covid-19 checkpoints on the way.

Upon reaching Dong Nai Province's Bien Hoa Town, the group was transferred to a seven-seat car, and after spending another hour on the road, it stopped at Long Khanh City and the driver asked the group to get on to a freezer truck to pass through upcoming Covid-19 checkpoints.

Danh was surprised to hear about the freezer truck, as there was no mention of it in the deal he struck. Drivers reassured the group, saying they only needed to pass through two checkpoints in Dong Nai and Binh Thuan and they would switch to another vehicle.

The group had no choice but to enter the truck.

"While the truck was running, its cooling system was turned off, then on, then off... It was incredibly hot inside, everyone was sweating buckets," Danh said, adding that he was very worried about his young son.

After spending around an hour in the truck, the doors opened and police officers showed up. Danh realized they’d been caught. It was around 10 p.m., and the truck was parked near a restaurant on the National Highway 1 section in Ham Tan.

"When we were taken to the police station, we were worried that we would have to return to where we came from. Most of us couldn't get a wink of sleep."

Nguyen Van Luan, 28, was also in the group. The Ha Tinh native said he was a construction worker who stayed at an acquaintance's house in Binh Duong Province that borders HCMC. For the past several months, he had no income and could not hold on for much longer. So he decided to find a way back home.

"They asked for VND5.5 million each as a full package, and said we could pay them after we got to our destinations," he said.

Like Danh, Luan didn't expect he would be transported in a freezer truck and be busted by the police. He thought the journey back to his hometown had ended in disaster.

"But luck comes in times of misfortune. I am glad that Binh Thuan authorities are now considering allowing me to get back home," he said.

Pitied, not punished

Nguyen Duc Hai Tung, a senior official with the Binh Thuan People's Committee, said the 15 people had begun their journey back home Wednesday morning.

"They should be sympathized with, not reprimanded. We will cover all their travel and food expenses along the way," said Tung, adding that Binh Thuan has requested Quang Tri, Nghe An and Ha Tinh authorities to cooperate with the group's return, ensuring coronavirus safety measures.

Police officers said the driver of the truck had agreed to bring the group through Covid-19 checkpoints for VND700,000 per person.

The company owning the truck has been fined VND15 million ($661.38); and the drivers of the cars that transported the people fined VND7.5 million each for violating coronavirus safety rules.

The incident is being investigated further, police said.

Traffic police officers in Binh Thuan find 15 people inside a refrigerated truck on September 12, 2021. Video by VnExpress/Tu Huynh

 
 
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