The discovery of 39 Chinese immigrants found frozen to death in the back of a lorry has exposed how human trafficking gangs are continuing to exploit a 5,000 mile people smuggling route from China to the UK.
A conveyor belt of victims are being brought to Britain on journeys through Asia and mainland Europe that can take months, in a criminal racket that has been ongoing for years.
Many who arrive here were crammed into the containers on ships and then ferried by road to their destinations where the are forced to work as slaves in nail bars, brothels, massage parlours and restaurants.
Yesterday’s tragedy, in which 31 men and eight women died in ‘absolutely horrendous’ conditions as they tried to reach the UK on a cargo ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium, recalls other shocking incidents involving other Chinese nationals smuggled into the UK.
Earlier this month it emerged that the number of British people rescued from slavery and helped by the Salvation Army has more than doubled, according to the charity. The Salvation Army said for the first year, China became the third most common country of origin for victims who benefited from its help.
In July 2000 the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants, who had travelled from China’s southern Fujian province, were found in the back of a truck at the port of Dover in Kent. Two people survived.
A conveyor belt of victims are being brought to Britain on journeys through Asia and mainland Europe, through countries like Bulgaria (marked on the map) then to Holland or Belgium and into the UK. It is a journey that can take months, in a criminal racket that has been ongoing for years
Police and rescue workers carry a body into an ambulance at Morecambe lifeboat station in February 2004, after a group of Chinese cockle pickers were trapped by the rising tide
Rescue teams search over Morecambe Bay for any survivors after cockle pickers became trapped by the rising tide
They were found stowed away with a cargo of tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same Belgian port that featured in the latest tragedy.
A Dutch truck driver was later jailed for 14 years for their manslaughter after he reportedly closed the only air vent and they suffocated to death.
Perry Wacker He had shut the trailer’s air vent because he was worried about noise alerting Customs. Detectives believe Wacker would have received around £300 for each immigrant.
Four years later in February 2004 at least 21 Chinese workers, again, who had travelled from the Fujian province, drowned off the coast of Morcecambe Bay in Lancashire when they are trapped by the incoming tide after picking cockles.
A total of 58 Chinese migrants were killed in 2000 when they suffocated in the back of a tomato lorry arriving at the Port of Dover
A man, originally from China, was later found guilty of manslaughter. He and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping those who died to break immigration laws.
In 2017 a bulldog breeder and show judge who made more than £100,000 by luring Asian woman to Britain to work in a prostitution network was jailed for four years.
Hong Chin, 45, had 18 sex workers from China and Malaysia staying in budget hotels around Gatwick Airport and the south east and south west of England.
Chin began his ‘shameful’ double life as a pimp while he managed Royal Esher Bulldogs on a country estate in Surrey and adjudicated on dog shows including the London Bulldog Society Open Show in June 2015.
The container lorry that carried dead asylum seekers into Dover docks in June 2000
The human trafficker advertised sex workers for up to £100-an-hour on ‘adultwork.com’ and used the profits to send his daughter to a top private school.
Chin’s former partner Li Wei Gao, 44, and his former lover Ting Li Lu, 47, were also convicted of helping to run the escort service.
In March, 2006, a man originally from China was found guilty of manslaughter by a British court. He and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping those who died to break immigration laws, according to the BBC.
Nando Sigona, a professor of migration studies at the University of Birmingham, who has studied Chinese immigrants to the UK told the Associated Press: ‘The fact that all these people came from the same country could hint to a more organized crime scenario.
The scene inside the container lorry in which 58 died at Dover in June 2000
The driver of that lorry was later jailed for 14 years for manslaughter. Right: A Daily Mail front page from the tragedy in Dover in 2000
‘Usually, if it’s an ad hoc arrangement at the port, you would get a bit of a mix of nationalities.’
He told AP that China’s rising middle class has more access to multiple routes to come to the West legally – say, with student or tourist visas.
This means that the West is now closer to the public imagination in China, and could prompt those with fewer resources might put themselves and their families into debt in hopes of reaping similar rewards.
There have been similar tragedies involving other nationalities.
In August 2014, 36 Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex, close to yesterday’s incident.
Hong Chin, 45, had 18 sex workers from China and Malaysia staying in budget hotels around Gatwick Airport and the south east and south west of England. Chin’s former partner Li Wei Gao, 44, and his former lover Ting Li Lu, 47, (right) were also convicted of helping to run the escort service
One man in the container, Meet Singh Kapoor, 40, died during an overnight crossing from Belgium.
Police said the group, who were part of the Sikh minority in their home country and were fleeing persecution there, had suffered a ‘horrendous ordeal’.
In 2016, two human traffickers were jailed for 17 years after being convicted at Basildon Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.
Stephen McLaughlin, 49, and Martin McGlinchey, 36, were sentenced after the court heard Mr Kapoor’s family were forced to watch him die of natural causes.
In October 2001, a van load of 26 Sri Lankan refugees were found near to suffocation at Dover Docks after crossing from Calais in a van on a ferry.
The group, three of them women, were suffering from dehydration and the effects of breathing in fumes when they were discovered by Customs inspectors.
In 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in this meat lorry
Police said at the time: ‘They had very little air left and time was running out for them. If it had been a little while later they were found, they may not have been alive.’
And in August 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in the back of a refrigerated lorry which was then dumped at the side of an Austrian motorway.
Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the victims who suffocated in the lorry in Hungary before it was found near Parndorf in Austria in 2015.
The group had made their way to the Serbian border with Hungary before being packed into the air-tight poultry lorry. Austrian police later found the bodies piled on top of each other.
The deaths in August 2015 led Germany’s Angela Merkel to say she would open the country’s borders to refugees, eventually allowing in more than one million people.
Today’s incident is thought to be the biggest case of mass murder in Britain for 14 years since the terror attacks on the London transport network on 7/7 in 2005, which left 56 dead including the four suicide bombers.
The death toll is also higher than that of tragedies such as the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, which left 23 people dead including attacker Salman Abedi.
The total is also well above that of the Dunblane school massacre near Stirling in Scotland in March 1996 in which 18 people died including shooter Thomas Hamilton.
Murder detectives in Essex are still interviewing lorry driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, who was arrested after the tragic discovery of the migrants in Thurrock, Essex, at 1.40am yesterday.
His home in Markethill, Co Armagh, was raided last night before a team entered the nearby home he used to share with his parents, who have flown to England overnight to support their son. A third property in Armagh City was also searched this morning.
Police are focussing on whether Robinson knew he was picking up dozens of immigrants from Purfleet docks on Tuesday night amid claims his HGV’s -25c chiller unit, usually carrying biscuits and mushrooms from Ireland, was switched on.
The migrants were huddled inside the super-chilled sound-proofed container for at least 15 hours by the time the door was opened by Mr Robinson, who called an ambulance from an industrial estate in Thurrock.