Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, has called for the provision of “safe and legal” resettlement for migrants to avoid tragedies such as those in Essex this week.
Fiona Finn, chief executive of Nasc, expressed fears that the closure of legal migration routes would result in further exploitation of migrants.
“We do not know if the people who got on that lorry knew what the risks were,” she said. “We do know that 1,000 people who got on boats to cross the Mediterranean this year died.
“People place themselves in the hands of smugglers or traffickers because they see no other alternative. They cannot find a legal pathway.
“The response to this tragedy should not be to push for tighter or more punitive immigration control for migrants or asylum seekers.
“We need to instead look at providing safe and legal alternatives including through reinstating family reunification for dependent family members of refugees, easing employment permit restrictions, and investing in our resettlement programmes.
“This is also something that needs to be addressed at EU level with greater co-operation. Ultimately, when legal channels close, it opens doors for trafficking and exploitation.”
Rod McKenzie of Britain’s Road Haulage Association said “cynical, manipulative, and evil” gangsters use sophisticated methods of secreting migrants onto lorries to be trafficked without being noticed by the drivers.
“The back hinges of lorries are removed, so the whole door comes off,” he said.
“Migrants are then put on board and then the hinges are screwed up again, all without the driver’s knowledge — perhaps while he is asleep or through some other circumstances.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Mr McKenzie said when drivers do their regular “walkaround” checks of their lorry there is rarely “any obvious evidence of tampering of the locks, the classic thing of the locks being jemmied open”.
Mr McKenzie said he believes gangs were using ports with less rigorous security to traffic migrants. While busy ports such as Calais use heat sensors, CO2 monitors and sniffer dogs, “less guarded ports like Zeebrugge” do not have such rigorous systems.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said a crackdown is needed on lorry registrations.
“My understanding is that it’s quite common for Irish companies to register their trucking companies in other jurisdictions,” said Mr Flanagan.
“I believe we need to look at that. I’ll be in contact with my colleague, the minister for transport.
“And I believe it’s important that there is no opportunity for any activity of an unacceptable nature regarding the registration of trucks. It is quite common to see Irish trucking companies with their fleet having registration plates in Eastern Europe in particular. And I believe that something that we need to look out for the future is tightening up the situation.
“I don’t know the reasons why an Irish trucking company would set their headquarters in an eastern European state. And I believe that those who do that probably need to state the reasons why.”
Irish hire firm ‘shellshocked’ by truck deaths
The directors of a Co Monaghan hire company has said it is “shellshocked” and “gutted” after 39 Chinese people were found dead in one of its trailers.
A spokesman for Global Trailer Rentals confirmed it owned the part of the lorry which was found on an industrial estate in Essex on Wednesday, containing the bodies of eight women and 31 men.
The refrigerated trailer was leased on October 15 from Global Trailer Rentals’ yard in Co Monaghan at a rate of €275 per week, the spokesman told RTÉ News.
The company said it provided British police with information about the person and company that leased the trailer, as well as offering to make tracking data available.
Its directors said the company was “entirely unaware” the trailer was to be used in this manner.
Detectives have been given an extra 24 hours to question the driver.
A 25-year-old man, named locally as Mo Robinson, from Portadown, Co Armagh, was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.
Officers are to start the process of removing the bodies from the lorry and taking them to a mortuary so that autopsies can begin.
The bodies are expected to be taken in a private ambulance under police escort in several convoys to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford by the weekend.
Essex Police Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said he had the “utmost confidence” in his officers as the force leads its largest-ever murder investigation.
He said: “I am immensely proud of the way the county has come together in the wake of such a tragedy.
“This is the largest investigation of its kind Essex Police has ever had to conduct and it is likely to take some considerable time to come to a conclusion.
We will conduct this investigation with respect for every single one of those people.
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said the autopsies and identification process will be “lengthy and complex”.
The discovery echoes one in 2000, when the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants who had paid a criminal gang to be smuggled into the UK were found in a sealed, airless container in Dover.
The Chinese embassy in the UK said it was with a “heavy heart” that it learned of the latest deaths and it was “in close contact with the British police” to seek confirmation of the events.
Vigils have also been taking place outside the Home Office building in London and in Brighton.
The trailer arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and the front section to which it was attached, known as the tractor, came from the North via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.
The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am and officers were called around 30 minutes later after ambulance staff made the discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue.
The deaths follow warnings from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force of the increased risk of people-smuggling via Belgium.
The NCA previously said it had a “greater focus” on rising smuggler numbers in Belgium after the closure of a migrant camp.
It also warned that criminal networks are suspected to have started targeting quieter ports on the east and south coasts of the UK as well as the main Channel crossing between Calais and Dover.
The day after the incident, a group of suspected migrants were seen being detained by authorities in Zeebrugge, with some of them seen attempting to climb a fence into a compound attached to a truck company before they were intercepted by police.
Lorry drivers told of a “constant battle” to stop migrants trying to get into their vehicles.
However, port bosses said such trailers are “completely sealed” in the port so it was unlikely people were loaded into the container there.