Eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated lorry in an industrial park in Essex, east of London last month, in a case that has shaken Britain and exposed the deadly risks of illegal migration from Vietnam into Europe.
British police initially said the victims were Chinese, but several Vietnamese families came forward to say they feared their relatives were on the truck. None has been officially identified so far.
Many of the suspected victims came from just two provinces in central Vietnam, including Nghe An province where eight people have been arrested in connection with the deaths, police said Monday, according to media reports.
“This was a very painful incident, a humanitarian accident,” said Nguyen Huu Cau, director of Nghe An police, confirming the arrests in video comments carried by the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.
The official Vietnam News Agency also confirmed the arrests, saying the suspects were detained for “organising (and) brokering people to go abroad and stay abroad illegally”.
Two other suspects were arrested in Ha Tinh province last week in relation to the Essex incident.
Brokers are rife in remote towns in central Vietnam, a hotspot for illegal migration into Europe.
DNA samples and fingerprints have been taken from several families in the area as officials in Vietnam and Britain work to identify the victims.
Families of the missing have told AFP that their children had gone overseas to find work, hoping to earn money to send back home.
Britain is a popular destination for Vietnamese illegal migrants, many of whom end up working in cannabis farms or nail bars.
Those without enough money to afford so-called “VIP packages” to fly to European countries before embarking on treacherous routes into Britain — usually in trucks — often travel westward via Russia or China.
The routes can be dangerous, with some people exploited for labour in factories or brothels along the way, NGOs and experts say.
The 25-year-old Northern Irish driver of the refrigerated truck found on October 23 has been charged with manslaughter, money laundering and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
In Dublin, another Northern Irishman is facing extradition proceedings to bring him to Britain in connection with the incident.
British police have also said they want to speak to Ronan and Christopher Hughes, two brothers in the haulage business from Northern Ireland.
Three other people have been arrested and released on police bail.