The head of the people smuggler gang, responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese in 2019 in the English county of Essex, is convicted to 15 years in prison and a fine of 920,000 Euro. The migrants suffocated in a refrigerated truck that had been shipped to England by the smugglers from France via the Belgian port Zeebrugge. 17 other defendants have been sentenced to prison terms of 1 to 10 years, 5 people have been acquitted.
In this landmark judgment by the Belgium court, it was further ruled that damages should be paid to the families of a number of victims. Lawyer Luc Arnou, who spoke for the victims and on behalf of LSI’s member PAG-Asa expressed his satisfaction with the verdict. “It is a clear signal that it is not done to wring out people who are looking for a better life and to transport them in inhumane conditions that lead to death. It is clear that those who are continuously engaged in this and do not pay attention to the interest of those people are very severely punished.”
The tragedy that emerged in the Essex town of Grays exposed the nature of the gangs smuggling migrants risking everything to get to the UK. The Belgian court convicted the accused persons for running a criminal organisation that had smuggled at least 115 people across the UK Channel between September 2018 and May 2020. They were accused of playing a role before the deadly journey across the Channel from Zeebrugge, buying supplies for the migrants, transporting them in taxis or acting as look-outs at safe houses in the Anderlecht area.
Earlier, in the British trial that ended a year ago at the Old Bailey in London, two lorry drivers and two other smugglers were convicted of manslaughter, while three others were jailed for involvement in the gang. In addition, seven people were convicted in September in Vietnam itself for their role in people smuggling. Four Vietnamese were then given prison sentences of 2.5 to 7.5 years.
While La Strada International supports the conviction of people responsible for the death of a large group of vulnerable migrants, it also calls upon States to take their responsibility. Instead of putting much focus on increasing border control, States should offer more opportunities for legal and safe migration schemes.
See also press release by Pacific Links and Global law firm Hogan Lovells who have been representing a number of families of the “Essex case”.