LOOK: First bodies returned to Vietnam a month after lorry tragedy
World / 27 November 2019, 09:07am / Chris Humphrey and Bac Pham
Hanoi - After an agonizing wait, the bodies of some of the 39 migrants found dead in a lorry in England last month were repatriated to Vietnam on Wednesday.
Vietnam's foreign ministry said 16 bodies were repatriated on Wednesday morning. The rest will reportedly be brought back imminently, although the timeline remains unclear.
"My daughter's body is on the way back home from [Hanoi] airport," Pham Van Thin, the father of 26-year-old victim Pham Thi Tra My, said.
"Her body will arrive home at about 1 or 2 pm today [0600-0700 GMT]. We will organize the funeral today and then a burial for her at 3 pm on Thursday."
Thin added that local authorities would not allow the family to go to the airport to escort the coffin back.
"They may be afraid our weeping will interrupt their work," she said.
My's text message to her mother saying "I'm sorry mum ... I'm dying because I can't breathe" first alerted the world of the possibility that Vietnamese nationals could be among the dead after British police initially said that all 39 victims were Chinese.
Shortly after the aircraft landed, representatives of victims' families from Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces received the bodies of 16 victims and began the process of transporting them to the families, the statement said.
"Our district arranged and sent eight ambulances to [Hanoi] airport on Tuesday evening in order to carry eight bodies back home and hand them over them to their families," said Bui Huy Cuong, deputy chairman of Can Loc District in Ha Tinh province, where ten of the victims were from.
The bodies of the Vietnamese migrants were first discovered in the back of a refrigerated lorry on October 23 in Essex, in south-east England.
The long delay and confusion over costs of repatriation have caused extra grief for families desperate to bring their loved ones home.
The families will have to pay for the repatriations themselves, with the Vietnamese government offering to pay upfront and giving relatives 30 days to pay the money back interest-free, the Vietnamese state announced.
The relatives were offered two choices: either the family has to pay almost 1,800 dollars to receive their loved ones cremated as ashes, or over 2,800 dollars for the body to be sent to Hanoi airport.
The news led to philanthropic responses from both concerned individuals and companies.
A page on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe has raised over 27,000 dollars, while Vingroup, a Vietnamese conglomerate, has pledged to donate 800 dollars to each of the victims' families in Nghe An and Ha Tinh.
Do Thi Kim Lien, a Vietnamese businesswoman, has also been donating funds to the families to allow them to repatriate the bodies of their loved ones.
Hundreds of Vietnamese are trafficked to Britain each year, according to the charity Ecpat.