Socialist Worker

Refugees condemn system that led to deaths of 39 people

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2678

Outside the Home Office on Thursday

Outside the Home Office on Thursday (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Essex Police have launched “the largest murder investigation in the force's history” after 39 bodies were found in the back of a refrigerated lorry. 

The container with the bodies of 39 people who are reported to be Chinese came to the port of Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday. They were discovered the following day at an industrial estate in Thurrock, Essex. 

The 39 deaths are racist murder. And the Tory politicians, whose  immigration policies force refugees to take dangerous routes and push them into the hands of people smugglers, are guilty. 

One refugee from Sudan, who we’ve named Gabir, told Socialist Worker that everyone who has to use the method is “faced with death”. He came from Calais to Britain in the back of a refrigerated lorry in 2016.

“Maybe the people in Essex tried to bang on doors. But you can’t do anything when you’re inside,” he said. 

“You could bang for the whole day and no one would hear you. 

“After my friend locked me in to the truck, I was there alone for six bloody, nail-biting hours among the ice cream. There is hardly any oxygen. There’s just a cold breeze like if you're in a huge fridge.

“I lost the feeling in the lower half of my body—so I could barely move.” 


Gabir described trying to “hold on to life” while “images of people at a funeral” flashed before his eyes. “Every three minutes feels like three hours when you are stuck in the back,” he said.

When Gabir’s mobile phone showed that he was in Britain, he called the emergency services who tracked down the lorry. He was in an ambulance for 40 minutes before he regained the use of his legs.

Police have raided three properties in Northern Ireland as part of the investigation. And the National Crime Agency (NCA)—which has some responsibility for border security—is working to establish if “organised crime” was involved.

Tory politicians and the right wing press are grandstanding over organised crime and people smugglers.

But it’s their policies that mean some refugees rely on people smugglers to get them across borders. If people could move freely in search of a better life without facing barbed wire and police batons, they wouldn’t be pushed into the arms of smugglers. 

Gabir said, “When we were in Calais, some of the border officers came over and would say, ‘Don’t try to take the risk.’ But we said, ‘We’re going’.

“If you’re on the outside of the situation, if you haven’t had to cross a border, it can seem like a very difficult thing to do. But when you have no options, you do whatever you need to do.”

Gabir had already crossed the Mediterranean Sea after fleeing the Sudanese military dictatorship. 

Boris Johnson called for those responsible for the 39 deaths to be “hunted down and brought to justice”. He should hand himself and his government in. And the only solution to stop further deaths is to let people into Britain safely. 

Remembering the 39 and demanding action

People gathered for a vigil and protest on Thursday at the Home Office.

Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) called it to mark the 39 deaths and to demand safe passage for refugees.

Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of SUTR, denounced the "cheap xenophobia" of politicians and said that migrants and refugees hade made a huge contribution to British society.

Juliet spoke from the group Safe Passage. It exists to help unaccompanied child refugees and vulnerable adults find safe, legal routes to sanctuary. She said people should remember the 39 who had died and that these deaths were a stark reminder of the dangers that refugees face. "Desperate people take risks," she said, "and I am angry that people with the legal right to asylum are denied basic rights."

An Iraqi refugee denounced the British and European Union immigration systems that, he said, were to blame for the 39 deaths.



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