Input: Yu Pin
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the 39 bodies that were discovered in a truck in Essex, the UK, have yet to be identified as Chinese nationals, after a reporter from CNN raised questions on the incident at a regular briefing of the ministry in Beijing on Friday.
The Chinese government is gravely concerned about the incident and the Chinese embassies to the United Kingdom and Belgium are working closely with local police and urged a thorough investigation, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
The British police told the Chinese embassy that they were "still verifying the identity of the victims and could not confirm at that moment whether they were Chinese nationals," Hua said.
"The Chinese government attaches great importance to this case. We hope the British side will confirm the identity of the victims as soon as possible, find out what happened, bring those responsible to justice and properly handle the aftermath," she added.
The spokeswoman rebuked the questions raised by CNN about the possibility of Chinese citizens being illegally trafficked and about the fact that Chinese people are trying to leave China.
"In your question you presumed those victims were Chinese and linked this case with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. This is a problem. It exposes something in your mind or rather, in the mind of some American media that you represent," Hua said. "Chinese people have gained an unprecedented level of gratefulness, safeness, fulfillment and happiness over the past, over the past seven decades," she went on.
"If you look around, you'll know that China is not the country with serious illegal immigration issues. In fact, I know that a growing number of foreign friends want to study, travel, work and even live permanently in China. I believe this simple fact speaks volumes."
Here's what we know and we don't know about the truck deaths:
On October 23, British police said the bodies of 39 people were found inside a truck's container at an industrial site in Grays, about 32 km (20 miles) east of central London.
The truck was believed to have come from Bulgaria and entered Britain on Saturday (October 19) at Holyhead, a North Wales port that is a major entry point for traffic from Ireland, and the truck driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder, police said on October 24.
The truck driver appeared remotely via video call in a local court on Monday charged with manslaughter and conspiracy of human trafficking.
He was remanded in custody until Nov 25. The case will continue at Old Bailey criminal court in London, where he will enter a plea.
Police also said all the victims, including 31 men and eight women, were believed to be Chinese nationals and the investigation focused on human trafficking.
On October 25, police said they arrested three more suspects on suspicion of human trafficking and manslaughter. They were a man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, and a 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland at London's Stansted Airport.
Identities yet to be confirmed
On October 24, the Chinese embassy to the UK sent officials to the site after receiving a call from the police about the incident, and the embassy said they had asked the British police to confirm all victims' identities as soon as possible and to keep the Chinese side updated.
A day later, the embassy said the police are still "verifying the identity of the deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed."
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Chinese government "attaches great importance to this case" and urges the British police to conduct a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice. The ministry said it is in close contact with the British police but it still could not confirm whether they were Chinese nationals.
Amid signs that some of the deceased may be Vietnamese, the Vietnamese embassy in London said on Friday families from the Southeast Asian country had gotten in touch about missing relatives.
On Saturday (October 26), Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into the trafficking of overseas Vietnamese and demanded reports on the case by November 5. "(You) must investigate and find out cases of Vietnamese citizens being brought illegally to foreign countries and strictly handle the violations," Phuc said in a statement.
By Friday, local police in Essex are still verifying the identities of the victims. Essex Police's Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said they would not give any more details about the identities or nationalities of the victims until the formal identification process was complete.
(With input from Reuters and AFP)
(Cover: Police are seen at the scene where 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container, in Grays, Essex, Britain, October 23, 2019. /VCG Photo)