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'Devastated' Vietnamese pray for relatives missing in UK

3 min

Nghe An (Vietnam) (AFP)

A photo of her missing daughter Bui Thi Nhung, an offering of fruit and a bouquet of flowers -- a makeshift shrine laid by a desperate mother in a remote Vietnamese town many fear was home to some of the 39 people found dead in a truck in Britain.

More than 20 Vietnamese are feared to be among the bodies found in a refrigerated trailer in an industrial park in Essex east of London on Wednesday.

Many are believed to have come from central Vietnam, a hotspot for migrants hoping for better lives abroad.

In Nhung's town the signs of money sent back from overseas earners are everywhere: motorbikes and cars, freshly renovated homes, and a recently-opened bubble tea shop along the main road.

There is also a church, filled on Saturday with locals praying for the 39 victims.

British police initially said the 31 men and eight women found in the truck on were Chinese.

But then came the pleas from desperate Vietnamese families fearing their relatives were in the vehicle.

Some received chilling messages from their relatives in what was believed to be their dying hours. Others have heard nothing at all.

"We are very, very sad and confused," said Bui Van Diep who fears his 19-year-old sister Nhung was on the ill-fated truck.

She left their small Phu Xuan village in central Nghe An province about two months ago and has not been heard from since.

"We really want to have a confirmation so that we can know about my sister," he said, stricken.

Thier mother sits before a portrait of smiling Nhung on the makeshift altar weeping, hoping for any news at all from the missing teenager.

Normally set up only for the dead, Nhung's family now prays at the altar in the hopes she is still alive.

In this remote village of Nghe An province, one of Vietnam's poorest, most people know someone who has gone abroad.

Many embark on treacherous journeys overland via Russia or China, risking their lives and paying smugglers tens of thousands of dollars to get to the UK, often carrying falsified documents.

They are lured by promises of earning good money in Britain, where many illegal Vietnamese migrants work as manicurists or cannabis farmers.

- 'So much pain' -

Promises of quick riches was what drove 27-year-old Nguyen Dinh Tu to Europe, where he hoped to earn enough to renovate the family home.

He left Vietnam for Germany in the last year, and paid smugglers $6,400 in the hopes of making it to Britain.

But his family fears he might have not reached the country alive.

"We're devastated by this news. We're in so much pain," his brother Nguyen Van Tinh told AFP.

"We just wish authorities would help us bring the body of our loved one back," he said.

Tu had planned to meet his father-in-law in Britain and before getting on the truck told him to prepare the smuggling fee.

When Tu didn't arrive, his father-in-law called his family back home to say he was likely dead.

Like Nhung's family, the family now sits before an altar of the young man, praying for a miracle.

In neighbouring Ha Tinh province, Pham Thi Tra My's relatives have been frozen with grief since Wednesday when they got a chilling message from her.

They think she sent it in the last hours of her life from inside the cold trailer where she is feared to have suffocated to death.

"I'm sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn't succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe," the 26-year-old wrote.

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