Brussels: European agencies investigating the death of 39 Vietnamese migrants, who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry in the UK’s Essex county last year, have arrested 26 people in France and Belgium allegedly linked to human trafficking organizations.
French police arrested 13 people suspected of belonging to a smuggling ring focused on bringing people from Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, to the UK.
Another 13 were detained in Belgium during coordinated cross-border raids, according to the European Union’s (EU) justice agency Eurojust.
The raids were centered around Brussels and Paris.
“The action is the result of a cross-border investigation supported by Eurojust and Europol which looks at the criminal activity of people smuggling across the continent, and was prompted by the discovery of 39 deceased Vietnamese nationals inside a refrigerated trailer in Essex in the United Kingdom in October 2019,” Eurojust said in a statement on Wednesday.
A joint investigative team comprising agencies from France, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and the UK along with Europol was set up to probe the gruesome incident.
The migrants, including two 15-year-olds, were found in the lorry on an industrial estate in Essex on October 23, 2019 and were mostly from poor and rural areas of Vietnam’s north-central provinces.
The trailer arrived in Britain on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Essex police said earlier this year that the cause of death is a combination of hypoxia and hyperthermia.
Maurice Robinson, the driver of the lorry where the bodies were found, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in April.
According to Belgian prosecutors, the 13 people arrested on Tuesday included Moroccan and Vietnamese nationals and five of them have been charged with the human trafficking, of belonging to a criminal organization and forgery.
Five migrants were also found during the raids.