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28.05.2020 Europe

French, Belgian police arrest 26 over migrant lorry deaths in UK

REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
LISTEN MAY 28, 2020
REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Thirteen people have been arrested in the Paris region and another 13 around Brussels in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants whose bodies were found in a refrigerated lorry in Britain last October, prosecutors said.

Police in France and Belgium said the arrests were made in a series of joint early morning raids on Tuesday as part of an international probe into a human trafficking ring launched after the lorry's discovery last October. 

French police said the 13 people arrested in the Paris region were thought to be part of a criminal organisation that had been transporting several dozen migrants from Southeast Asia every day for several months. 

French prosecutors did not specify the nationalities of the suspects but sources told AFP Agency most were Vietnamese nationals. 

Belgian prosecuters said 16 searches of safehouses and other locations around Brussels led to arrests of 11 Vietnamese and two Moroccan nationals.

International trafficking ring
The discovery of the bodies of 39 migrants in a lorry in an industrial zone around Grays in Essex on 23 October 2019 provoked an international outcry. 

The 31 male and eight female victims, including three minors, were all from Vietnam and ranged in age from 15 three 44. Police said they died from a combination of asphyxiation and overheating. 

The victims came from poor villages and are believed to have paid smugglers to take them on the risky journey to Europe with the promise of better lives abroad. 

The suspects are thought to be part of a vast human trafficking operation in France, Belgium and Britain, and the suspected ringleader of a network of lorry drivers was arrested in Ireland last year. 

Belgian prosecutors said the container in which the bodies were found arrived in the UK via the Belgian port of Zeebruges and that some of the victims had stayed in Belgium before their departure. 

Five people have already been charged in Britain, including Maurice Robinson, the lorry's 25-year-old driver, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in a London court in April. 

(with newswires)

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