Feature: No more such tragedies -- stories behind Essex lorry deaths

Source: Xinhua| 2019-11-10 21:10:49|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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The youngest son of Cao Huy Thanh plays alone under the wedding photo of his parents in Vietnam's central Nghe An province, Nov. 8, 2019. Thanh, who was among the 39 Vietnamese nationals found dead in a lorry in Essex, Britain, was the breadwinner of a family with four children. (Xinhua/Wang Di)

VINH, Vietnam, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Cao Huy Thanh's old run-down house is nestled deep into a narrow and winding road covered with big bushes and trees, a typical landscape of rural Vietnam.

Extra tables and chairs have been prepared for guests coming to send condolences to the family of the 37-year-old, who was among the 39 Vietnamese nationals found dead in a lorry in Essex, Britain.

The sound of adults talking and grieving was well mixed with the innocent laughter of small children inside the 40-square-meter house. Occasionally, a family member disrupted the conversation to turn to the living room to check the altar set up on Nov. 5 for Thanh.

Incense, candles and offerings were well-arranged around the portrait picture of the ill-fated man on the altar, which stood opposite to his wedding photo taken seven years ago.

"We are waiting for my husband's body to be repatriated home so my four children can see their father for the last time," said his wife Thai Thi Giang, patting on her 11-month-old kid.

The 25-year-old told Xinhua that she got a phone call from the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 7, confirming that her husband was among the 39 victims in a container in Britain.

Her worst nightmare has come true - she lost her beloved husband, the breadwinner of the family of six to the perilous journey to Britain.


Living in a rural village in Dien Ngoc commune, Dien Chau district of Vietnam's central Nghe An province where fishing is the only thing unskilled people could do for a living, Thanh earned barely 200,000 dong (8.7 U.S. dollars) a day. The money was barely enough to cover the daily costs of the family of six.

In March 2019 when his fourth child was five months old, Thanh waved goodbye to his family, believing a better life was waiting for him abroad after paying 120 million dong (5,200 U.S. dollars) to go to work in Romania through a labor export company.

The harsh reality of life abroad soon broke Thanh's dream. He could not cover the daily expenses by doing "the physically tough job with low-paid wage" for a meat processing factory in Romania. He then asked his family to pay more for his trip to Germany where he worked in a restaurant with his childhood friend Cao Tien Dung, who was also among the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex last month.

"His last phone call home was on October 22. He told me that he would travel to Britain but didn't mention how he would get there and what job he would do. He asked our family to prepare money for the trip," Giang told Xinhua while embracing her youngest son in her arms.

"Yet he never called me back," she said while looking down with signs of weariness, hopelessness and deep despair.

Thanh's family got a loan of nearly 600 million dong (26,100 U.S. dollars), secured on their house, to fund his trips from Vietnam to Romania and then Germany.

His dream about a better future for the family bitterly turned into an inconsolable loss, a crippling debt and an uncertain future for the family.

"Without him, I don't know how we can manage raising all the four kids, repaying the debt and paying monthly interest rate. I don't know what to do with our life now," Thanh's mother said in grief.

Victims and their families had not been fully aware that their investment in an illegal immigration trip was a life-and-death gamble.

"Thanh is the first in our family to go to work abroad. If we had known about the risks, we would have never let him go that way," said Thanh's father-in-law, adding that he was worried how his jobless daughter could live on with such a great loss.


In the nearby Yen Thanh district, the passing of 26-year-old Nguyen Dinh Tu, breadwinner of the family and father of two small children, also turned his family's life upside down.

"His wife was devastated and fell ill these days," Tu's sister-in-law said. In recent days, the newly-built house without much furniture of Tu has been frequented by neighbors and relatives who came to share condolences with the family.

Some 500 meters away is 19-year-old Bui Thi Nhung's house which was echoed with the sad rhythms of Bible verses that her family members, neighbors and relatives sang to pray for her.

The family has set up a small altar for their ill-fated daughter - the picture of the young girl with radiant eyes and a warm smile was placed in the center and candles and a vase of fresh white chrysanthemum were put on two sides.

In the memories of her beloved ones, Nhung was "a cheerful yet thoughtful and responsible child."

"She had always put the family's needs above her own," said Bui Thi Phuong, sadly taking a look at the picture of her younger sister on the altar.

Two years ago, her father died of cancer and the family had to struggle to repay the debt they borrowed for the treatment fee. Living in a commune where about 75 percent of the working population work abroad, Nhung chose to go abroad with the hope for a better future and freeing her family from the loans.

According to Nguyen Thi Hong, a local resident of Do Thanh commune who is at her 50s, people here rely mostly on rice farming for a living. After harvesting season, there is no job to do so some go to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to find jobs.

Many families use low-interest loans borrowed from state credit funds to send their children to work abroad, Hong said.

Do Thanh commune is well-known as one of the most affluent localities in the central Nghe An province thanks largely to labor export, according to Vietnam News Agency.

Previously, people in this commune and surrounding areas had a difficult life because they could barely rely on planting rice and potatoes in the barren land. But in the past 20 years, there has been a movement of going to work in countries including Russia and Germany, among others, Nguyen Manh Ha, chairman of the commune's People's Committee was quoted as saying by the news agency.

With a population of fewer than 15,000, the commune currently has nearly 1,500 people working in foreign countries. Some families have two or more members working abroad.

High-rise houses and even villas have sprung up across the village. Many families have higher income and people's livelihood in Do Thanh commune has improved, local media reported.

The central Nghe An province, hometown of 21 out of the 39 Vietnamese victims, has more than 60,000 people working abroad, the highest number in the country. The province defines labor export as one of the key ways to create jobs and reduce poverty.


The list of the 39 Vietnamese victims in the Essex lorry tragedy was announced by the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security here on Friday.

After British authorities' confirmation of the 39 dead in the Essex lorry, Vietnam has dug into measures to bolster labor export management, so such "serious humanitarian tragedy" would not happen again.

Currently, 400 businesses in Vietnam are licensed to send Vietnamese workers abroad. In the past three years, more than 300,000 people have been sent to work in South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia, among others, according to Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Dao Ngoc Dung.

Local people should go to work overseas via legal channels and not attempt illegal and perilous journeys, he added.

As a criminal investigation for organizing, brokering illegal immigration and residence in foreign countries is underway, the criminals will be brought to justice and illegal immigration will also be tightened to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.

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