Tu, Nhung and Ha separately made their way to Europe in hopes of escaping poverty, their distraught relatives said Monday — placing the three among the thousands of Vietnamese migrant laborers who leave the country each year in search of work. According to the International Organization for Migration, many are from Nghe An, a poor region in a country that has touted its strong economic growth in recent years.
Vietnam’s largest province, Nghe An comprises tiny farming and fishing communities that have languished in poverty. Most houses here are squat, bare concrete structures with a few small rooms.
But there are exceptions: Gated villas with security cameras indicate the homes of families with relatives who made it to Europe, found work and sent money back. These structures, and the stories from successful migrant workers, lead others to attempt the perilous journey.
But the allure of financial stability can mask the risks involved.
“I think there’s a myth created around going to Europe and the U.S. that may or may not reflect reality,” said Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, an expert on international migration at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research institute.
Tu, who has two young children, had taken out a $30,000 loan to build a house for his family in Yen Thanh, his aunt, Nguyen Thi Chin, said in an interview Monday. A friend already in Europe told him he should go there to work and pay off his debt, she added. He took out another $30,000 in debt, borrowing from banks and family members, to fund this effort, his aunt said, and he worked illegally in Romania and then Germany before attempting to enter Britain last week.
“His friend told him that he should go to England, where he could make $2,600 a month working in a nail salon,” Chin said, a massive sum for someone from this small community where there are few job opportunities.
Nhung’s brother, Bui Van Diep, said she enjoyed listening to music and chatting with friends on Facebook. He added that his sister had to drop out of high school because her family couldn’t afford it after her father died of cancer in the past couple of years.
Ha, who also has two young children, made his way to Europe via air rather than land routes, said his father, Le Minh Tuan.
All three fell out of contact around the time of the gruesome discovery inside a refrigerated tractor-trailer in an industrial park about 25 miles east of central London.
More missing people have been reported in Ha Tinh province, which borders Nghe An to the south and is equally economically depressed. While families in Yen Thanh were open to sharing their stories, by Monday afternoon the police in Ha Tinh had told relatives to stop talking to reporters. Plainclothes police also prevented a reporter from speaking to a family believed to be missing one of a pair of twins near Vinh, Nghe An’s largest city.
Police in England have not confirmed the identities of any of the victims. Britain on Monday requested help from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security in identifying four bodies, Reuters reported.
Since the truck was discovered on Thursday, British police have detained four people in connection with the deaths, including the driver of the truck who has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter. Officials are also investigating whether organized crime groups were involved.
McAuley reported from Paris.