Bodies of 16 Vietnamese people found dead in a refrigerated lorry in the UK a month ago have arrived back in Vietnam.
They were among 39 migrants – eight women and 31 males, including two boys aged 15 – found in the lorry in Essex on 23 October.
The bodies were flown to Hanoi by a commercial flight and will be taken by ambulance to their family homes.
The families are expected to hold funerals and burial ceremonies in the coming days.
The bodies of the remaining victims will be repatriated in the coming days, though a date has not been publicly confirmed.
Repatriation of each body will cost each of the victims’ families more than 66.2 million Vietnamese dong ($2,856; £2,204), according to the vice minister of foreign affairs.
The Vietnamese government had offered loans to relatives, though some have said this will only add to the debts they incurred by helping their late relative make the journey to the UK.
Several Vietnamese organizations have helped to raise money for the families of the victims. More than $110,000 has now been crowdfunded to help support the families.
On 23 October, police found the bodies at the back of a refrigerated lorry in the town of Grays in Essex, eastern England. Police initially believed the victims to be Chinese nationals but it was later revealed that all 39 of them were from Vietnam.
One of the victims, Pham Thi Tra My, had sent distressing messages to her family on the evening of 22 October. “I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,” it read. “I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad.”
The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, had earlier pleaded guilty to plotting to assist illegal immigration
Mr Robinson pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to assist illegal immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019.
Mr Robinson is accused of being part of a larger plot to bring people into the UK illegally.
Another lorry driver, Christopher Kennedy, has also been charged with plotting with others to traffic illegal immigrants and assist unlawful immigration. He has been remanded until a hearing on 13 December.
Several other people have also been arrested in both the UK and Vietnam. (BBC)