Vietnam families of UK truck victims take on loans to repatriate remains

Tran Thi Minh Ha, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 19 2019 07:52 PM

Hoang Thi Ai, 48, mother of Hoang Van Tiep, suspected to be among 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck in Britain, shows a picture of him on her mobile phone at her house in Dien Chau district, Nghe An province, Vietnam on Oct. 28, 2019. Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

HANOI, Vietnam – Some families of the 39 Vietnamese people found dead in a truck in Britain last month will take on steep loans from the government to repatriate their relatives' remains, they told AFP Tuesday. 

Vietnam's foreign ministry said they would help bring either the ashes or bodies of the victims back -- but that families would have to cover the cost of repatriation. 

The price to bring ashes back in a jar was $1,774, while the fee to repatriate a body in a coffin was $2,858, according to an official document shared with the families and seen by AFP. 

Families in central Vietnam, where many of the 39 victims come from, said they were desperate to bring their loved ones back nearly four weeks after the tragedy, despite the debt they will have to take on. 

"We're in deep pain, we just want him back soonest," said Le Minh Tuan, whose 30-year-old son was among the victims found on October 23 in a refrigerated container in Essex. 

"We'll pay any price, whether I have to sell my house or my land, I am determined to bring him back," said Tuan, whose son Le Van Ha left behind two young children and a wife. 

The family already borrowed more than $30,000 to send Ha to Europe, a huge sum in his province of Nghe An where the average annual per capita income is around $1,200.

Tuan said he would opt to bring his son's body back instead of ashes so he could give him a traditional burial.

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Cremation is not common in rural Vietnam, where majority of the 39 victims come from, and bodies are normally buried several days after death. 

The foreign ministry urged families to opt for cremation "to ensure speed, low cost and sanitation safety," according to the document. 

It added that by law Vietnam's government was not obliged to cover the cost of repatriation. 

Vo Thi Hong said the family would take on a bigger debt to give her brother Vo Nhan Du a traditional funeral.

"Our priority is to bring him back. We'll think about how to pay the loan later," she told AFP. 

Two other families told AFP they also agreed to the government loan to repatriate their relatives' bodies. 

The majority of the victims come from Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces in central Vietnam, impoverished parts of the country where the main source of income is from fishing, farming, or factory work. 

The country's largest private conglomerate, Vingroup -- owned by the country's richest man -- said it would donate around $860 to families in the provinces whose relatives had died. 

Many families took on thousands of dollars of debt to send their kids to Britain, where they hoped they would land good jobs to send money back home -- and pay back their loans.

The incident laid bare the dangers of illegal migration in Britain, a top destination for Vietnamese nationals who often work in cannabis farms or nail bars.