Leader of Vietnamese human trafficking gang sentenced to ten years in prison
The court of appeal in Ghent (East Flanders province) has sentenced the leader of a large Vietnamese human trafficking gang to 10 years in prison. The gang is held responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese whose bodies were found in a refrigerated lorry in Essex, England, after being smuggled to the UK via Belgium.
In the court of first instance, Vo Van Hong had initially been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Four taxi drivers who transported the transmigrants were also convicted but received lighter sentences. Four other taxi drivers and the landlords of three flats were acquitted.
In October 2019, the case caused international outrage after 39 Vietnamese migrants were found lifeless in a refrigerated lorry which had been shipped to the UK from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge (West Flanders province). The 39 victims had died of heat exhaustion and suffocation.
Transmigration, described as migration without the intent to request asylum in Belgium but rather to demand asylum in another country, is a common phenomenon in Belgium. Many transmigrants today use Belgium as an intermediate country on their way to the United Kingdom. In 2018, Belgian police still discovered nearly 13,000 transmigrants. Notably, federal Justice minister Vincent van Quickenborne announced on Wednesday that this number has dropped by 90 per cent in recent years, to 1,065 in 2022. In 2021, there were still 4,100.
According to Van Quickenborne, this decline is partly due to frequent police controls, comprehensive international cooperation against human trafficking, the use of data discovered on confiscated smartphones by the Federal Judicial Police (FGP) and strict penalties for human traffickers.
In the province of West Flanders alone, 116 human traffickers have been convicted since the beginning of 2019.
Human traffickers Long Nguyen (left) and Vo Van Hong (right) pictured above during the verdict at the tribunal of first instance © BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER