Memorial event held for Vietnamese people on first anniversary of lorry tragedy

The lives of 39 Vietnamese people who died in a container lorry have been honoured by Londoners at a shrine set up to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy.

On October 23 last year, the group of migrants suffocated in a container as it was transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex.

Hackney Chinese Community Services (HCCS) began welcoming visitors to a shrine paying tribute to those who lost their lives at its centre on Ellingfort Road in the east London borough on Friday.

Those paying their respects throughout the morning lit incense, wrote tributes in a book and sat in silence before a wall displaying the names of those who died.

These surrounded a poster displaying the text of poems read at funerals, while a table bore white flowers, candles and offerings of fruit, sweets and biscuits.

Visitors sign a book on the memorial shrine at Hackney Chinese Community Services
Visitors sign a book on the memorial shrine at Hackney Chinese Community Services (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Jabez Lam, 64, the HCCS centre manager, said many of its members came from both Chinese and Vietnamese communities.

Local elders were consulted on how best to ensure the shrine, which was due to stay open until 5pm, honours Vietnamese traditions.

Mr Lam said its aim was to “share the experiences, the common grief and the hardships of migrant communities”.

He described the 39 Vietnamese people as “victims of globalisation” and drew parallels to previous migrant tragedies.

Mr Lam explained he acted as a middle man between the Chinese community and police after 58 bodies were found in a sealed, airless container at Dover port on June 18 2000.

He also highlighted the 2004 tragedy in which 23 Chinese workers drowned at Morecambe Bay after being sent to gather shellfish.

“All the victims are from similar backgrounds, that they were mainly from rural areas where their livelihood was destroyed by the so-called modern industrialisation,” Mr Lam said.

“Where they were forced to move away and make a living.”

He said border control rules and a “hostile environment” were “creating a profitable environment for [the] trafficking business”.

A memorial shrine at Hackney Chinese Community Services
A memorial shrine at Hackney Chinese Community Services (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Lam claimed a focus on the criminality of traffickers “totally lost the point”, arguing government policy should look at the “route problem” behind migrant tragedies.

He said: “In the last two or three decades the so-called globalisation has brought the world closer, bringing capital to where there’s cheap labour and destroying the environment of the local ecosystem and local livelihood.”

But he said border controls were preventing migrants fulfilling opportunities in other labour markets.

“All of these things together are pushing these people into the hands of the only route to come in which is organised crime,” Mr Lam said.

“We wish the Government would listen and be humane and change the system not to criminalise these people but unfortunately that hasn’t happened and it’s only got worse.

“Unless there is a change in border control and a change in the hostile environment this kind of tragedy will continue to happen.”

One visitor to the shrine on Friday, 39-year-old Gwyn Binyon, who works in Hackney, said she had come to the centre for the first time to pay her respects.

She said: “I feel like people in general haven’t really considered the people who died as individual beings with full lives who just through the accident of their birth found themselves in situations where it was impossible to continue living in those conditions.”

The 39 Vietnamese people who died were: Dinh Dinh Binh, 15, Nguyen Minh Quang, 20, Nguyen Huy Phong, 35, Le Van Ha, 30, Nguyen Van Hiep, 24, Bui Phan Thang, 37, Nguyen Van Hung, 33, Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, Nguyen Tien Dung, 33, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, Tran Khanh Tho, 18, Nguyen Van Nhan, 33, Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, Vo Van Linh, 25, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, 34, Vo Nhan Du, 19, Tran Hai Loc, 35, Tran Manh Hung, 37, Nguyen Thi Van, 35, Bui Thi Nhung, 19, Hoang Van Tiep, 18, Tran Thi Ngoc, 19, Phan Thi Thanh, 41, Tran Thi Tho, 21, Duong Minh Tuan, 27, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, 28, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, 18, Le Trong Thanh, 44, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, 32, Hoang Van Hoi, 24, Tran Ngoc Hieu, 17, Cao Tien Dung, 37, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, 18, Dong Huu Tuyen, 22, Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, Cao Huy Thanh, 37, Nguyen Trong Thai, 26, Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, and Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26.

A trial at the Old Bailey is ongoing in relation to the Essex container case.

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