Tilbury stowaways: survivors face uncertain fate

Aug 18, 2014

'Victims of people trafficking' will be questioned by Border Force as police launch homicide investigation

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A group of Afghan stowaways found inside a shipping container at Tilbury docks in Essex on Saturday are being questioned by Border Force and police officers seeking to establish how they came to be trapped in what has been described as a "metal coffin".

Dock workers discovered the 35 men women and children after "banging and screaming" was heard from within the container, the BBC reports.

One man was found dead and the others were rushed to hospital suffering from hypothermia and severe dehydration.

Who are they?

The group are Sikhs from Afghanistan, whom police believe to be victims of human trafficking. Sikhs face widespread persecution in Afghanistan because of their religion and have fled the region for decades. The survivors include 13 children, the youngest of which is just one year old.

Where did they come from?

They arrived in Essex in a shipping container which came  from Zeebrugge in Belgium, but it is believed that their journey began almost 4,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Belgian officials say it would have been "impossible" for them to break into the container in Zeebrugge, and would already have been inside when it arrived at the port.

What will happen to them now?

UK police have been co-operating with Belgian officials and Interpol and have launched an international homicide investigation into the incident. Thirty of the survivors have now been released from hospital and four are still receiving treatment. Those released were taken to a makeshift reception centre inside the terminal building at Tilbury docks where they are being questioned by police and Border Force officers. The Red Cross helped by providing essential food and welfare for the group during the weekend.

"Now that they are well enough, our officers and colleagues from the Border Force will be speaking to them via interpreters so we can piece together what happened and how they came to be in the container," said superintendent Trevor Roe of Essex Police.

He also said the they were working with members from the local Sikh community to ensure that "these poor people, who would have been through a horrific ordeal, are supported in terms of their religious and clothing needs".

It is unclear at this point what will happen to the group once they have been questioned.

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