Essex Lorry Victims: Government At Fault

Attribution: new.sky.com

The last two men responsible for the Essex lorry deaths were each found guilty on 39 counts of manslaughter by an Old Bailey jury this past Monday. Gheorghe Nica, the operations coordinator, and Eamonn Harrison, one of the lorry drivers, stood on trial for the last 10-weeks in England. It had started in October, 12 months after the incident. The other three men involved in the operation choose to plead guilty prior to the trail. Sentencing is scheduled for next month.

Human smuggling is a crime. Individuals convicted of the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person or persons should be punished accordingly. The five men responsible for the last mile deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants will likely serve long-term prison sentences. Some of the families of the victims are hoping they will be given maximum sentences, as reported by Viet Nam News. But while the outcome on Monday provides those bereaved with more closure, are all of the parties responsible for the 39 deaths being held accountable?

News of the guilty verdicts made front-page headlines in Vietnam this past week. Countless numbers of people shared those stories across social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even TikTok. Of the individuals that commented, whereas most locals supported the results, Westerners were largely undecided. Some shared the same mindset of the locals, but many thought the victims and families were just as at fault. Understanding the mentality of enough older and poor Vietnamese with regard to money, I agree in part with the Westerners; however, I believe the problem is more deeply rooted.

Local Vietnamese tend to place blame superficially. The Vietnamese educational system emphasizes conformity and obedience in lieu of independence and critical thinking. Like monkeys that grab the first banana they see rather than looking around the bend to get to the banana field, local Vietnamese are quick to pass judgement.

Unlike Western media coverage of the Essex lorry deaths then and now, Vietnamese state media failed to mention anything about where most of the victims had lived, Central Vietnam, and the economic hardships they faced. 35 of the 39 individuals were from Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên–Huế provinces, areas greatly affected by the toxic waste spewed into its waters via an underwater sewage pipe connected directly to the ocean by the Công ty TNHH Gang Thép Hưng Nghiệp Formosa (Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company). Prime Minister, Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, claimed it was “the most serious environmental disaster Vietnam has ever faced,” yet the Communist Party of Vietnam at his direction has gone to great lengths to erase this event from its history by silencing all critics and quickly controlling any narratives using its absolute power.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company was ordered to pay VND 11.5 trillion (USD $500 million) in compensation to the Communist Party of Vietnam, but its widely thought that only a fraction of the money was given to the affected individuals. Activists reported that only “some people” had received up to VND 20 million (USD $1,000) from the government. I only know of one person who received VND 16 million (USD $700) in compensation. It’s widely thought much of the compensation was kept by members of Vietnam’s community party for personal gain.

Five years on come next April and still 7,875 parties are suing the parent of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company in Taiwan for damages because they were repeatedly denied any legal grounds by Vietnamese courts to hold Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company criminally or civilly accountable on lack of evidence. As their livelihoods were destroyed and little to no compensation was given, this is largely seen as their last stand for some justice. Reports about the legal proceedings have not been reported by Vietnam’s state media.

For comparison sake, even eight years after the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP is still paying criminal and civil penalties that have so far amounted to USD $70 billion (VND 1,620 quadrillion) despite the return of commercial fishing, tourism and entertainment and other business activities. That’s 13,900% more than Formosa Ha Tinh Steel company was fined by the Communist Party of Vietnam.

It’s easy to blame the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants on the five men charged in the human smuggling operation, the victims and their families or both. But arguments in favor of the human smugglers and victims and their families can be made. Regarding the former, some believe human smugglers serve the greater Vietnamese good as the U.K. alone estimates 18,000 Vietnamese illegally enter its country every year to provide much needed money to their families back home.

Would adequate compensation have stopped the human smuggling of Vietnamese migrants from the affected areas? Probably not but it wouldn’t be to the same extent.

The Communist Party of Vietnam has failed the victims and their families, either way. It is at fault as much — if not more than — anyone else.

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Chris Nguyen

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