Gardaí do not believe that the 39 people found dead in a container yesterday in the UK were trafficked through Ireland. It is believed the container went directly to the UK from Belgium, arriving on a ferry from Zeebrugge.
There were reports last night that police in Britain are investigating a suspected people-smuggling ring in connection with the discovery. Gardaí have confirmed that they “will provide every assistance possible” to UK police.
The Bulgarian embassy in London said it had been told by police that the truck was registered in Varna in Bulgaria “under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen”. It said the last time the truck was in Bulgaria was in 2017 and it left the day after it was registered.
A 25-year-old man, named in reports as 25-year-old Mo Robinson from Portadown, Co Armagh, is being held by Essex police on suspicion of murder.
Police have begun the process of trying to identify the 39 bodies found in the lorry on an industrial estate in Essex. All 39 people were pronounced dead at the scene. UK police said it appears that 38 were adults and one was a teenager.
Detectives said the refrigerated trailer containing the victims arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am yesterday, while the front section came from Northern Ireland.
The lorry and trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am and officers were called around 30 minutes later after ambulance staff made the grim discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue in nearby Grays.
Police originally thought the lorry had travelled to the UK through Holyhead in north Wales on October 19, but later revealed that the trailer had come directly from the Continent. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the discovery of so many bodies as “a really terrible and human tragedy”.
Speaking in the Dáil, he said “everyone’s thoughts in the house... are with those who have died and their families.”
The Department of Justice said it was “aware of the tragic reports” and pointed out that British police had confirmed that the container did not pass through Ireland. Helen McEntee got visbily upset yesterday in the Dáil when responding to questions about the tragedy.
Ms McEntee , the European Affairs Minister, struggled to contain her emotions when she addressed the migrant issue and spoke of her frustration as to the lack of progress at EU level in dealing with it.
“On the migrants issue, I find this quite upsetting. Where anybody dies in such a manner it is a failure of all of us,” she said, with her voice cracking.
“It is an extremely frustrating conversation that I have been having with my colleagues over the past two years when it arises at the General Affairs Council.
We do, and want to, support any mechanisms that are put in place. As a country, we are not to the forefront like Greece, Spain, and Italy but we do have a role to play.
The Irish Refugee Council warned that Ireland and other European countries “can do more” to avoid such tragedies.
“As of yet, little is known about the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex, or what fate led them to be in that container,” a spokes-person for the organisation said. “What we do know is that people seeking asylum are often compelled to take similar life-threatening journeys because of the clear absence of safe alternatives.
“As new deals shut down routes, and fences and walls go up, people are finding new ways and methods to reach places of safety. If this needless loss of human life is connected to forced migration, it brings into sharp focus the desperate need for safe and legal pathways to protection and migration.
“Since 2014, 18,898 deaths were registered in the Mediterranean alone. It continues to be the most dangerous crossing in the world. It is very likely that countless other, unrecorded lives have been lost as Europe focuses on stemming migration flows. Until we see more proactive responses and solutions which open up safe and legal ways for people to escape persecution, we will continue to see people making journeys of this nature.”