DO THANH – The rural village of Do Thanh in central Vietnam has relied on its sons and daughters working abroad to send money back home. Now it fears they could be among the dozens of people found dead in the back of a truck in England.
The mother and a sister of Bui Thi Nhung cried as they set up an altar with incense and a photo of the missing 19-year-old. The family heard from a friend living in the U.K. that "Nhung is one of the victims," said a relative who was visiting the woman's despaired mother.
Nhung paid an agent over $10,000 with the hope of entering Britain to work as a nail technician, the relative said.
Nhung and many others from Yen Thanh, the farming district in Nghe An province where Do Thanh village is located some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Hanoi, travel abroad looking to make the type of money they cannot earn in Vietnam. One of their main goals is to send back enough to allow their families to build large homes that they otherwise would be unable to afford.
"Many families in Yen Thanh have gotten rich from money sent back by their children working abroad," said Le Dình Tuan, one of Nhung's neighbors, who was at the house.
On Saturday evening, about 200 people attended a ceremony at a church in Do Thanh organized by a Catholic priest to pray for three possible victims from the area, including Nhung.
While Nhung is Catholic, the other two are not, but the priest, the Rev. Nguyen Duc Vinh, said, "We pray for everyone regardless of their religions."
Many of the attendees wore white headbands, which are normally worn during Vietnamese funerals as a symbol of mourning.
U.K. police said Saturday that all 39 victims were out of the truck and in a mortuary awaiting autopsies. But they said the victims have not been identified and very few documents were found with the bodies.
Also Saturday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered investigations into alleged human trafficking, according to a government statement. He also ordered Vietnam's Embassy in London to closely work with British authorities to identify the possible Vietnamese victims.
Vietnamese Ambassador Tran Ngoc An visited the scene and worked with Essex police to deliver information from concerned Vietnamese families, the Vietnam News Agency reported.
A representative for VietHome, a U.K.-based organization that assists the local Vietnamese community, had said the group sent photos of nearly 20 people reported missing to British police.
British police initially said they believed the victims found in the container truck Wednesday in southeastern England were Chinese, but later acknowledged that it was a "developing picture."
China said it could not yet confirm the victims' nationalities or identities. There was speculation circulating online in Vietnam that the victims may have been traveling on false Chinese passports.
Associated Press writer Giap Nguyen in London contributed to this report.