First of Vietnamese migrants found dead in UK truck repatriated amid human trafficking investigation

The bodies of sixteen of the 39 migrants found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck in the United Kingdom last month were repatriated to Vietnam early Wednesday and returned to next of kin, according to reports.

This comes as officials in the UK and Vietnam continue to investigate an international human trafficking ring after eight women and 31 males, including two boys both aged 15, were found dead in the back of a truck in Essex on Oct. 23. All 39 were later identified as Vietnam nationals.

The remains of sixteen of the migrants arrived in Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport early Wednesday and were transported by ambulances to their family’s homes in the Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces, according to Sky News.

“After waiting for so many days, my son has finally arrived,” Nguyen Dinh Gia, father of victim Nguyen Dinh Luong, told Reuters in a phone interview from his home in Can Loc, Ha Tinh province. “We are deeply saddened, but we have to hold back the emotion to organize the funeral for my son.”

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UK and Vietnamese officially are working to repatriate the remaining victims in the near future.

"This is a very difficult time," British ambassador to Vietnam, Gareth Ward, said in a video statement released on Wednesday. "I promise the families and the Vietnamese people as a whole that we will continue to boost the cooperation between the UK and Vietnam to prevent human trafficking and protect vulnerable people here."

Each body will cost about $2,856 to repatriate, according to the vice minister of foreign affairs. The Vietnamese government will advance the payment and the victims’ families will be required to pay back the cost of to fly the bodies in from the UK at a later date. A crowdsourcing campaign has raised more than $110,000 for the relatives of the deceased migrants, BBC reported.

The minister added in a statement that families were encouraged to have the bodies cremated “to ensure speed, low cost and sanitation safety.” Many relative instead agreed to pay to have the bodies shipped back to Vietnam for traditional burials given cremation is rare in the country’s rural areas, The Guardian reported.

On Monday, Maurice “Mo” Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to assist illegal immigration. He admitted to driving the truck where the bodies were found. Robinson told the court he conspired with others from May 1, 2018, to Oct. 24, 2019 to assist unlawful immigration and acquired cash that he knew or suspected came from criminal conduct, Reuters reported.

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On Sunday, the Essex police said Christopher Kennedy, 23, also of Northern Ireland, had been arrested in connection with the investigation. He was charged with conspiracy to arrange people trafficking and conspiracy to break U.K. immigration law. A third suspect was being held in Ireland. Two other suspects from Northern Ireland, brothers Ronan and Christopher Hughes, were being sought, the New York Times reported.

Police in Vietnam has arrested 10 people in connection with the deaths.

Fox News Robert Gearty contributed to this report.