The 39 people found frozen to death in a trailer shipped from Belgium to Britain are all believed to have been Chinese nationals, British police said.
“We have since confirmed that eight of the deceased are women and 31 are men and all are believed to be Chinese nationals,” police said in a statement on Thursday.
The Chinese foreign ministry has confirmed the report, according to the Global Times.
The paper, published by the official People’s Daily newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said the foreign ministry said: “nothing more could be released as of now”.
The announcement has raised speculation that the victims could have been Uighurs, Muslim citizens who live in the west of the country and who are harshly persecuted by the state. There is a large Uighur refugee community in Turkey and plenty of routes for desperate people to enter Europe from there. Beijing’s embassy in London has yet to respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
“The National Crime Agency in this country is noting that it is now a favoured option by these criminal gangs to put asylum seekers and refugees inside these refrigerated lorries – it seems to me for the simple and horrific reason that it’s much more difficult for the heat-seeking equipment used by border guards to work if they’re in a fridge,” said Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London.
Paramedics and police found the bodies early on Wednesday in a truck container on an industrial estate at Grays, about 20 miles (32 km) east of central London.
Essex Police continue to question a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland over the latest tragedy.
He was arrested on suspicion of murder, the police said, adding that raids had been carried out at three properties in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland police searched properties in the Northern Irish village of Laurelvale, County Armagh, where the driver and his family lived, late on Wednesday, reported the Belfast Telegraph.
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