Essex lorry deaths: Victims believed to be from rural Vietnamese town, says priest

Most of the 39 people found dead in a lorry container in Essex are thought to have come from neighbouring impoverished provinces in Vietnam.

Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a catholic priest in Vietnam's Nghe An province, said he had been contacted by a large number of families in his town of Ye Thanh who believe their loved ones are among the victims.

He told Reuters news agency the tragic discovery was a "catastrophe" for his community.

"The whole district is covered in sorrow," he said. "I'm still collecting contact details for all the victims' families, and will hold a ceremony to pray for them tonight."

The priest said families had told him that they knew their loved ones had been travelling to the UK around the time the container was found in Grays, Essex, and had not been able to contact them.

Nghe An is one of Vietnam's poorest provinces and many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe are from the region, according to a March report by anti-trafficking organisation the Pacific Links Foundation.

State media in Vietnam reported other victims are believed to have come from the neighbouring province of Ha Tinh.

The bodies of 39 people were found in a refrigerated lorry trailer at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday.

Essex Police initially said it believed the deceased were Chinese nationals, but has since said it is a "developing picture", and the force is yet to confirm their nationalities and identities.

Vietnam's embassy in London will assist police with identifying victims, according to a statement from the country's foreign ministry.

A UK-based Vietnamese community website, Viethome, said it has handed around 20 photos of people reported missing to the police.

The father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dinh Luong also fears his son is among the dead.

He said his son left home in Ha Tinh province to work in Russia in 2017, later travelling to Ukraine, Germany and France.

Last week, the 20-year-old said he would join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.

"He often called home but I haven't been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week," Nguyen Dinh Gia told the Associated Press.

"I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it's safe. He shouldn't be worry about money, I'll take care of it."

Luong's older brother, Pham Dinh Hai, said his missing sibling had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder.

The family have shared this information with local authorities.

There has been speculation in Vietnam that the victims may have been travelling with fake Chinese passports.

Four people have been arrested over the deaths, including 25-year-old lorry driver Mo Robinson from Portadown in Northern Ireland.