Home news Vietnamese smuggling rings drive up prices after deadly drama

Vietnamese smuggling rings drive up prices after deadly drama

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At the end of December, the Ghent Court of Appeal will once again look into the 2019 Essex drama, in which 39 Vietnamese migrants died in a refrigerated container shipped from Zeebrugge. Meanwhile, recruitment for human trafficking in Vietnam continues, writes the Federal Migration Center Myria in its new annual report. Because of Essex, the smugglers have even raised the price of transport.

‘Honey, maybe I’ll die in the dumpster; I can not breathe.’ On October 22, 2019, 39 Vietnamese victims, including four underage boys, were found dead in a refrigerated container arriving from Zeebrugge in the British city of Essex. They choked on UK waters because the trailer cooling – and therefore the airflow – was not on.

Three years later, the Essex drama has resulted in convictions in the UK and Vietnam, investigations in France and Germany, and a trial in Belgium before the Ghent Court of Appeal on the basis of a file of more than 25,000 pages. The macabre farewell message found on the mobile phone of one of the Vietnamese victims is part of this file.

The international smuggling network behind the murderous transport was mostly made up of Vietnamese and was run from Vietnam. The Federal Migration Center Myria followed the Essex case as a civil party. In his new annual report, he draws up in more than 40 pages a breathtaking analysis of the smuggling and trafficking of Vietnamese human beings in Europe. Knack, the standard and TRV NWS could see the report.

“No scruples”

Experts say the Essex drama has had little to no impact on recruitment in Vietnam. “Criminal networks changed their working methods shortly after the fact, and changed their discourse during recruitment, among other things.”

The smugglers didn’t even hesitate to jack up the price of hauling contraband after the deadly Essex haul.

This emerges, among other things, from the testimony of a minor victim. At the safe house where he was staying, he was told the price of crossing from mainland Europe to the UK past Essex had been increased by £7,000. Myria: ‘The smugglers had no scruples.’

In addition to Essex, another 155 contraband shipments

The Vietnamese criminal organization responsible for Essex had been active in Belgium since at least May 2018, writes Myria. “She was responsible for far more transports than just the fatal transport on October 22, 2019.”

Over the period 2018-2020, the network was involved in 156 contraband shipments, which generated around 7 million euros. He smuggled a total of 335 Vietnamese victims from Vietnam to Europe, for an average of 12,600 euros per transport. In addition, he also brought 195 Vietnamese from Belgium/France to the UK. The average amount of contraband for the last crossing was around 11,800 euros.

nail chickens

“In addition to the deaths, the smuggling network claimed many other victims,” writes Myria. “These smuggling victims were in a vulnerable position along the way.” Their passports and smartphones were confiscated, guards threatened violence, food was not always available or only for a fee. Sometimes the victims had to walk through the forests for hours or were crammed into cars or buses for hours on the road.

According to Myria, the language used by the smugglers indicates a “dehumanization” of the victims, described as “chickens”. In an intercepted telephone conversation, two smugglers even talked about “nailing chickens” (so they couldn’t escape). Victims were also referred to as “goods” or “parts” and had to be paid “by the piece”. Myria: “The smuggling organization reduced them to goods with which you could make a lot of money quickly.”


Two havens in Brussels played a pivotal role in supplying contraband to the UK. According to Myria, the places functioned as “warehouses” of people – to use the words of the victims. Investigation shows that at least fourteen Essex victims departed from there on their fatal journey. Two of them had escaped from a reception center for Dutch young people before hiding in a Brussels hideout. “The Dutch authorities had informed the Brussels public prosecutor’s office, which had not acted”, writes Myria.

As early as 2012, shelters in Brussels resurfaced in another Belgian case on the trafficking of Vietnamese to the United Kingdom. And recently they have also been discovered in Wichelen, Leuven and Leopoldsburg.

crystal meth

The Essex smugglers mainly communicated via WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook. Myria: “According to the conversations, they were not only involved in the trafficking of human beings, but also in the trafficking of counterfeit cigarettes.” In the Belgian part of the Essex case, the Bruges court of first instance handed down prison sentences for human trafficking in early January. But Vietnamese human trafficking networks are also active in other criminal sectors, according to Myria’s annual report.

To reimburse their travel expenses, victims of Vietnamese smuggling networks are exploited during their journey in the construction sector, the clothing industry, nail salons and restaurants – according to Myria, also in Brussels. Others are sexually exploited or forced to participate in the illegal sale of cigarettes and the production of drugs. Myria: “In Eastern Europe, Vietnamese criminal organizations have recently moved from growing cannabis to producing the synthetic drug methylamphetamine, better known as crystal meth.’

More Vietnamese minors missing in Belgium

In the conclusions of its annual report, Myria recalls the importance of detecting and welcoming Vietnamese children who are victims of human trafficking or smuggling.

Revealed in July 2019 Thing, The standard and TRV NWS that since 2017, no less than 44 Vietnamese minors had disappeared from sheltered reception in Belgium. It was three months before the Essex tragedy.

New figures that we have requested from the Guardianship Service of the FPS Justice show a clear decrease in reported disappearances of Vietnamese minors in Belgium: from 28 cases in 2019 to 8 in 2020 to 2 in 2021. disappear from radar in Belgium. Sharon Beavis, Spokesperson for FPS Justice: ‘These figures are based on disappearances reported to us by reception centers and guards. They are purely indicative. Young people who disappear before they could be identified were also counted. This may include adults.

Christophe Clerix

Other highlights from Myria’s 2021 annual report

Belgian police forces last year 313 offenses cases of human trafficking. This is a slight increase from 2020.

· In 2021, the social security inspection services referred 147 presumed victims of human trafficking to the judicial authorities following a closed investigation. This is three times more than in 2017. The victims are mostly men. Remarkable is the large group of Romanian victims who worked in the agricultural and horticultural sector.

· In 2021, 28 victims of a more serious form of human trafficking in Belgium will be in a orientation process take a step. This is the second highest figure in the last ten years. With the exception of one underage woman, all of the victims were adult men.

Being in Belgium in 2020 103 final convictions convicted of human trafficking. Between 2012 and 2020, approximately one in three people convicted of human trafficking was Belgian; one in six was of Eastern European descent. A large proportion of sexual exploitation cases concern Nigerian prostitution rings.

· A couple of diplomats from Kuwait was sentenced to imprisonment by the Brussels court in December 2021 for employing an Ethiopian woman as a domestic worker in 2017. She was not allowed to leave the house. When the family was not there, the house was locked. The couple kept their passports. She was only able to escape when the couple left the keys on the door overnight.

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