For many Vietnamese, a job in a Western European country is seen as a path to prosperity worth breaking the law. But the risks of doing so are high and the consequences can be deadly, as the discovery of 39 bodies in a truck in England last week proved.
The victims were believed to Asian migrants who had paid traffickers to smuggle them into the country. And now residents of this small rural Vietnamese community fear that two cousins were among the dead in the refrigerated cargo container.
“I miss him very much,” said Hoang Van Lanh, who anxiously awaited word on the fate of his 18-year-old son, Hoang Van Tiep. But he added, “That’s life. We have to sacrifice to earn a better living. Tiep is a good son. He wants to go overseas to work and take care of parents when we get old. He insisted to go, for a better life.”
Dien Thinh in north-central Vietnam is a coastal village with 300 households that depend on small-scale farming of peanuts and sesame and seasonal fishing.
A big pink church in the village center that marks this as a Catholic settlement is surrounded by modest homes, though there are also some new two and three story houses belonging to families who have members working abroad.
The village is a 15-minute drive from Yen Thanh district, a similar area where 13 families have come forward to report missing family members.
By Vietnamese standards, Dien Thinh is not especially poor, but like many rural areas, it lags behind urban regions economically.
The average annual per capita income in the province where the village is situated is $1,620, compared with a national average of $2,587, according to the Vietnamese government.
Many young people head for the cities or gamble on their chances in Europe, whether out of devotion to their families, a desire to escape a life of backbreaking manual labor, or a yearning for a fancy new house.
Tiep’s parents live in a one-story brick house built three years ago. Hanging across the length of a living room wall, above a cross, is a framed print of “The Last Supper.” His mother, Hoang Thi Ai, sobbed and stared blankly this week as visitors tried to comfort her. She carried her phone everywhere in the hope he would contact her.
The last texts she received from him were on Oct. 22 the day before British authorities discovered the truckand said he was “on the way” to England and “please prepare the money at home” and “10 thousand 5,” shorthand for the 10,500 pounds ($13,600) left to be paid to the traffickers.