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The Case of the Essex Lorry Deaths of Vietnamese Victims

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

A mass prayer for the 39 victims Saturday at My Khanh parish in Nghe An province, Vietnam

A similar case in 2000 saw 58 Chinese nationals suffocated in a smuggled lorry in Dover. This time, the victims came from Vietnam, mainly from the Ha Tinh province. The largely agricultural area sees mountainous areas bordering towards Laos and edges onto the South Chinese Sea. Although noticeably poorer than the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, the families of victims are generally considered to be middle-class. It has been found that many of these families paid, often borrowed money, of well in excess £30,000, to traffickers. Why?

Despite its society being heavily grounded in communist history, the culture of the people in Vietnam is incredibly entrepreneurial. Having spent the last month in the capital itself, I’ve personally found it outstanding how imbedded this dynamic entrepreneurial spirit is within the approach of younger generation in particular. Many speak of travelling, and working, abroad; Australia, UK, America, to name a few. It doesn’t come as a surprise to many Vietnamese locals that such a case occurred; to cite the BBC Southeast Asian correspondent, Jonathan Head, there is a “degree of fatalism” within the reaction to the tragedy that these victims suffered in the name of ‘success’. The sense of shock and grief experienced so immensely in Britain does not seem so prevalent here.

One man that was interviewed following the death of his son, a victim of the Essex Lorry tragedy, claimed that he had mortgaged 2 pieces of his land in order to pay an excess of £20,000 for this particular journey. His expectation was that the sum would be fully paid back within one year. It begs the question: how? Many of the Vietnamese people that make this journey and live to tell the tale generally claim to work in nail salons in the UK; some in other fields, such as cannabis farms. It seems almost impossible to expect those kinds of savings annually. However, it is through networks these activities occur. The golden glamour: the American Dream-esque blurry tale-telling of fortunes being made post pay-back, building surplus for themselves. In Vietnam, it seems as though there is a sense that this kind of activity and desire will not cease to continue. This pattern of migration is so different to that of the Middle East, for example, which is so often driven by desperation and war. Rather, this drive for success is boundless and, as a result, endless. There is a reason why Vietnam has one of the fastest growth rates worldwide. Despite it being an authoritarian communist state, this brewing of ambition so easily sought within the community from North to South feels almost desperate.

So, whose responsibility is it to stop this kind of action from happening? We pray that, of course, the authorities all across the route will get involved – from the British, French and Belgium governments, for example. However, it seems the Vietnamese authorities have turned too much of a blind eye. The disparity between the millennial dynamic society that evidently exist versus communist rule that has proven to be heavily corrupt has potentially meant that intercepting this kind of activity not a priority so as to keep the Vietnamese people contented.

A prayer from Christian Today:

for unknown people who have died in a lorry

for unknown suffering to family and friends

we pray with heartbreak and sorrow


we know this should never happen

we know that behind the headlines there is an unheard story of despair

we know that we have overlooked things we should have seen

we know that as individuals and a society we need to change

for God's sake

bring us to our knees in contrition

and to our feet with outrage


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