The remains of 16 people who died in the back of a lorry container in Essex have arrived in Vietnam.
The remains of 16 people who died in the back of a refrigerated lorry container in Essex last month have arrived in Vietnam, according to a statement from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry.
They arrived at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on Wednesday morning, the statement added, and were immediately met by representatives of their local communities.
The victims were later taken back to their home provinces — Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh — where they were handed over to their families.
Dozens of people were seen lining the streets of a village in the Nghe An province as funerals got underway for two victims, John Hoang Van Tiep and John Nguyen Van Hung.
A joint operation between Vietnamese and British authorities is still underway to repatriate the remaining 23 victims, the ministry said.
It added: "Since the incident, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK have been actively working closely with local and Vietnamese authorities as well as the British side to assist families in need in humanitarian settlement, in humane spirit, in accordance with international law, and legal provisions and practices of the two countries."
Meanwhile, the UK's ambassador to Vietnam Gareth Ward said on Wednesday that he hoped the first repatriations would "bring some small comfort" to the families of the victims.
He added: "This is a very difficult time, but I promise the families and Vietnamese people as a whole that we will continue to boost the cooperation between the UK and Vietnam to prevent human trafficking and protect vulnerable people here.
"Human trafficking is an international problem that requires us to work together to solve it.
"We will continue working with the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the criminal acts that led to this tragedy."
According to a further ministry statement seen by Reuters, the victims' families are expected to foot the bill for repatriation of their loved ones — and could be paying up to €2,500 per person.
However, the ministry has also said it will advance the payment and arrange for the families to repay the costs at a later date.
The 39 victims, all aged between 15 and 44, were found in the back of a lorry container in an industrial park in Essex in October.
Police later arrested the vehicle's 25-year-old driver Maurice "Mo" Robinson and charged him for a number of crimes, including 39 counts of manslaughter.
He pleaded guilty in court earlier this week to assisting in illegal immigration and acquiring criminal property, but did not enter a plea for the rest of his charges.