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Two Found Guilty in Suffocation Deaths of 39 Vietnamese Migrants

FILE - Police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Grays, South England,Oct. 23, 2019.

In a story that shocked Britain and Vietnam, two human traffickers were found guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese who died in the back of a truck crossing from Zeebrugge, Belgium, to Britian in October 2019.

Some of the dead were as young as 15 years old.

According to reports, the victims died when the oxygen level in the truck's hold began to fall. Some tried in vain to escape, while others reportedly sent frantic farewell messages to loved ones.

The dead mostly came from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, a poor area of the country. Each likely paid up to $40,000 to be smuggled to Britain, according to The Guardian newspaper.

According to The Guardian, the migrants "planned to work in Britain's nail bars and restaurants; some hoped to get work as bricklayers."

"This is an unimaginably tragic case: 39 vulnerable people desperate for a new life were driven to put their trust in a network of unscrupulous people smugglers," said Russell Tyner, a prosecutor in the Organized Crime Division, according to the Reuters news agency. "They died through lack of oxygen, desperately trying to escape from the container. Some were able to express their last words to their families on their mobile phones when they knew their situation was hopeless."

Guilty verdicts

After a 10-week trial at Britain's Central Criminal Court in London, Eamonn Harrison, a 24-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland, and Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Essex, were found guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter, in addition to one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

"The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery," said Ben Julian Harrington, chief constable of Essex police, Reuters reported. Sentencing will take place at a later date.

Mimi Vu, an independent anti-trafficking and slavery expert based in Vietnam, told The Guardian she did not think the guilty verdicts would do much to stem the tide of human trafficking.

"It's like cutting off a fingernail, when to really address the problem, we need to cut off the heads, which are sitting in Prague, Berlin, Moscow, and other European cities where the ethnic Vietnamese organized crime groups that direct the smuggling and trafficking trade are based," she said.