39 People Found Dead in a Truck in the U.K. Are Believed to be Chinese Nationals

Police in the U.K. said Thursday that the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated truck container are believed to be Chinese nationals.

The bodies were found in the container in the early hours of Wednesday morning, in an industrial park in Essex, east of London, after a local ambulance service alerted police. Police said the front tractor unit of the truck had arrived in the U.K. from Dublin at the weekend, and collected the trailer, which had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium, at the port of Purfleet on the River Thames.

Police confirmed Thursday that eight of the victims are women and 31 are men. 38 of the people are believed to be adults, and one is a young adult woman.

A 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in custody, as police start the largest murder investigation in the U.K. since the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. Police officers have searched three properties in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in connection with the investigation. According to the BBC, Britain’s National Crime Agency said it was working to identify “organized crime groups who may have played a part.”

Belgium’s Public Prosecutor’s Office also announced Thursday that they would be opening an investigation into the case, co-operation with Britain’s police and judicial authorities. The tragic case comes as incidents of people smuggling in Belgium have increased in recent years, following the closure of the migrant camp at Dunkirk in March 2017. A National Crime Agency report earlier this year noted an “increasing use of higher-risk methods of clandestine entry,” referring to the method of refrigerated heavy goods vehicles from France and Belgium.

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