Catholics call for prayer, legal migration routes after Essex lorry deaths

Police officers drive away a lorry in which was discovered 39 dead bodies at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays east of London Oct 23 2019 Credit Ben Stansall AFP via Getty Images Police officers drive away a lorry in which was discovered 39 dead bodies, at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, east of London, Oct. 23, 2019. | Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images.

In the wake of the discovery of the bodies of eight women and 31 men inside a semi trailer in eastern England on Wednesday, Catholics are calling for prayers for the victims and their families, as well as safer means for immigrants and asylum seekers in Europe.

'We are praying for the thirty-nine women and men who died, for their families, and for all those across the world who have lost their lives while trying to reach a better future," Bishop Paul McAleenan, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and lead bishops for migration and asylum in the English and Welsh bishops' conference, said Oct. 25.

"This tragedy underscores the urgent need to redouble our efforts in establishing safe passages and combatting criminals who exploit desperate people," McAleenan said.

Police have not yet released details about whether the people who died were migrants, or seeking asylum, and the nationalities of the victims has not been officially confirmed, though Essex police initially reported that all 39 of them were Chinese nationals.

Jesuit Refugee Service UK called for policies for safe and legal migration, including a widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under refugee family reunion rules, in response to the discovery of the bodies.

"This is devastating news. We know very little about the people who lost their lives at this point, but they are someone's son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, friend or neighbour. We pray for those who died and for their families and friends," said Sarah Teather, JRS UK's Director, Oct. 23.

"This is truly tragic news, but depressingly predictable and avoidable news," said Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council.

"If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs."

Despite the police's initial report on the victims' nationalities, at least three of those on board may have been from Vietnam. Several Vietnamese people, who fear that their family members were on board and among the dead, have confided to the BBC.

"Our thoughts are with the 39 victims in #Essex, no matter where they are from," Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, said in a tweet Friday.

"This has again drawn world attention to the issue of illegal immigration. The world should join hands and take resolute measures to prevent such tragedy from happening again."

GPS data from the trailer, which had been leased from Global Trailer Rentals, shows that it left the Republic of Ireland Oct. 15, crossed into the UK and made its way to the port of Dover before crossing into mainland Europe. There it moved among several cities in France and Belgium before crossing the channel again to the town of Purfleet on the Thames.

A man and a woman, both 38, from a town near Liverpool, have been arrested and are being held on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people, The Times reports. On Wednesday a truck driver from Northern Ireland was arrested on suspicion of murder.

The Times also reports that the arrests come after port authorities and police were accused of failing to act on repeated warnings about migrant activity near the docks.

The BBC notes that this is not the first time that the bodies of people believed to be migrants have been found in England; in June 2000, the bodies of 58 Chinese people who had suffocated to death, along with two survivors, were discovered in a semi truck at Dover.

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