(Brussels) Twenty-four people will soon be tried in a Belgian court for their alleged responsibility in the tragedy of the 39 Vietnamese migrants discovered dead in a truck in England in 2019, we learned from a judicial source on Wednesday.
These defendants are mostly Vietnamese or Belgians of Vietnamese origin.
A first so-called “introductory” hearing, intended to set a timetable for the trial, is scheduled for October 27 before the Bruges Criminal Court (north-west), told AFP Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson of the federal prosecutor.
On October 23, 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants – 31 men and eight women – were found aboard a container in the Grays industrial area, east London.
The victims died of asphyxiation and heat in the confined space of the container, a resounding tragedy which brought to light the dangers of illegal immigration and the total lack of scruples of some traffickers.
The container, in which the migrants (including three minors) had taken place before crossing the Channel, came from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. This prompted the Belgian justice to open an investigation in parallel with the proceedings initiated in particular in Vietnam and the United Kingdom.
As part of this investigation, under the authority of the federal prosecutor’s office, a series of searches in Belgium led on May 26, 2020 to thirteen arrests, all followed by an indictment.
Among the 24 accused, most belong to the Vietnamese community in Belgium. There are also at least two Moroccans and an Armenian, all legally resident in Belgium, the spokesperson added.
Eleven other suspects were then arrested on Belgian soil and then charged, Mr. Van Duyse said on Wednesday.
They are prosecuted, depending on the case, for “trafficking in human beings with aggravating circumstances”, “belonging to a criminal organization” and “forgery and use of forgery”.
The penalties incurred range “from one year to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1,000 to 15,000 euros per identified victim,” said the federal prosecutor’s office in May 2020.
In this case, which also led to the opening of an investigation in France, sentences have already been handed down by the Vietnamese and British courts.
In the UK, seven men were sentenced last January to terms ranging from three to 27 years in prison.
In Vietnam, four men were sentenced to prison (between two and a half and seven and a half years), and three others to suspended sentences, in September 2020.