EU Search for Death Smugglers

The container in which eight refugees died in Wexford was found on this truck.

By Mairead Carey, Contributor
February / March 2002

Police across Europe are trying to find the gang who transported eight asylum seekers to their death in Ireland. The dead, who included three children, were found in Wexford on December 14, when a truck driver opened the sealed steel container of his lorry. Five others, suffering pulmonary and kidney problems caused by low oxygen levels, hypothermia and dehydration, were brought to hospital to recover from the horrific journey.

Those who died included members of two families from eastern Turkey, believed to have been Kurds, a community which has suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the Turkish and Iraqi administrations. The families had paid between $5,000 and $8,000 per person to traffickers and believed they were being brought to Britain. Instead, they were loaded onto the wrong container in Zeebrugge in Belgium and brought to Ireland, a journey which took 54 hours in Gale Force 10 winds.

Belgian police were questioning two men about the smuggling operation. The driver of the lorry which brought the container from Cologne to Zeebrugge was also quizzed as well as a French national who is suspected of having driven some of the group from France to Belgium.

The deaths have shocked the nation. Though it is the first time that someone had died while trying to get into Ireland, in June, 2000, 58 Chinese died trying to get into Britain, via Kent. In that tragedy, there was one survivor and the Dutch driver of the lorry was convicted of conspiracy and manslaughter and received a 14-year sentence.

The recent deaths in Ireland have focused attention on both the Irish government’s and the EU’s attitude toward asylum seekers. A spokesperson for Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahem said that while the EU is not “Fortress Europe,” it had to have emigration controls. Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna criticized the government’s position saying that “Smugglers thrive out of human misery thanks to these tough laws.” She criticized a proposal to have an EU-wide quota system for asylum seekers and urged that a humanitarian approach to be taken.

Irish Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue has said that if the survivors wish to remain in Ireland, their applications would be dealt with sympathetically. ♦

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