Thoughts on the tragedy of the 39 killed in the lorry

All reading this will have read about the tragedy of those who died in the lorry on the way to the UK.  These deaths have made the headlines because so many people died, all at once.  But there are deaths connected with trafficking every day that we don’t hear about.

This report from “Missing Migrants” shows the figures from around the world.   It gives the facts about the tragedies of desperate people trying to reach Europe bringing the total this year to 1090 deaths, out of 2063 worldwide this year.

There are also those who are trafficked here, and are victims of slavery.  Paul Vallely, writing in the Church Times, says “What if the 39 migrants had survived?”  A big question that isn’t being addressed.  There is no doubt that the outpouring of sympathy would not have been the same.  If they had been intercepted by the authorities they would have been treated badly, and probably detained, and “sent back to where they came from”.  They certainly would not have been able to work here.  Had the smugglers been successful, the migrants would have been subjected to being treated as human slaves here.  No rights; no documentation; no employment legislation; no decent housing.  

There are many examples, from the many recently reported, of how victims of trafficking have been badly treated in the UK after arriving here. It is criminal for our Government to send those who have been trafficked (and proved to be so) back to where they are so vulnerable to be trafficked again. Every possible effort must be made to stop the smugglers and their agents, who profit from trading human beings.

Amnesty International has a penetrating analysis of the problem, not just the symptoms, that lead to people dying on beaches or locked in trucks in this incisive article in the Belfast Telegraph,

Safe and legal routes to the UK must be implemented and traffickers and smugglers combatted through cross border co-operation; having border controls in France and Belgium makes it easier to refuse seekers of sanctuary without the due process required for those who reach the UK.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK has renewed its call for safe and legal routes to migrate and seek asylum following the publication by MPs of a report indicting the UK’s excessive focus on border security. The report argued:

A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.  

Former Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather said:

We welcome the call for more pathways to seek asylum from outside of Europe. At JRS UK, we work with Vietnamese victims of trafficking. They were vulnerable to traffickers because there were no regular routes by which they could migrate. Many asylum seekers we serve have also been forced to make dangerous journeys, because the alternative was certain death if they stayed where they were. This will continue for as long as governments in safe countries cut off routes to reach them.

Our Lib Dem Policy says we would

Ensure that victims of trafficking are supported so that they can give evidence against their traffickers and never be returned against their will to their country of origin, where their traffickers would have access to them all over again.

We also call for better training for all Home Office staff making decisions, particularly those dealing directly with more vulnerable groups such as those trafficked.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • But the victims here were not trafficked. They were economic migrants who made a voluntary decision to leave Vietnam and come to Britain illegally. If they had survived it would have been right to detain them and return them whence they had come.

  • Gary J- Hearing how other Vietnamese people have been trafficked here, since this tragedy, often forced to Europe to
    pay off family debts at home, often not knowing where they are going, moved around Europe secretively to avoid detection, these people are (or sadly were) not economic migrants, but slaves.

  • Clive Sneddon 12th Nov '19 - 9:44pm

    Gary J- How do you know the victims were not trafficked? The police have kept the lorry driver for questioning for so long because they believed he was part of a smuggling operation, and have since charged him. They have issued an extradition warrant for someone in Ireland as being part of the same smuggling operation. The Vietnamese police have made arrests in Vietnam. People tend to risk their lives only under extreme pressure, and entering a refrigerated lorry is clearly a dangerous thing to do. Economic migrants are under less pressure and may succeed in finding a legal route to come here.

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Nov '19 - 10:10am

    Gary J 12th Nov ’19 – 8:43pm
    “If they had survived it would have been right to detain them and return them whence they had come.”
    This ignores the practical difficulties of returning people ‘whence they had come’ which actually would mostly be to the countries of their nationality.

  • Suzanne – you make my point. You can go after traffickers and smugglers but you’ll be indulging in whack-a-mole activity. Take one down and another will pop up so long as Britain’s highly restrictive immigration rules remain in place. I see the Tories are pledging to make them even tighter. Which will means no lessons learned then.

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