Leading article

Essex tragedy brings refugee crisis closer to home

It has been well documented that the European migrant crisis has had devastating consequences over recent years, with appalling fatality levels recorded across the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.

However, the grim discovery of the bodies of 38 adults and a teenager in a lorry container in the south of England yesterday, and the subsequent arrest of a Co Armagh driver on suspicion of murder, has brought the entire debate much closer to home.

The container is believed to have transported from Belgium, but there are suggestions that the victims could have originally been from outside Europe and the scale of their ordeal is almost too horrifying to imagine.

There have been indications that increased security checks at Dover and Calais may prompted those involved in the evil practice of people smuggling to use ever more circuitous methods in order to gain entry to the UK.

Sources said that while the unit found at Grays in Essex yesterday morning had come from Zeebrugge to Purfleet it had later been picked up by a truck which had travelled from Ireland via the port of Holyhead in Wales into England.

It is appalling to realise that 39 human beings were crammed into a sealed and possibly refrigerated metal container throughout a prolonged journey before it is feared that they all eventually suffocated.

They may not have initially known the full extent of the dangers they faced but they were plainly desperate enough risk their lives along the way.

It is essential that the police investigation, which is likely to link forces from several different countries, establishes the full facts of the horrific case without delay.

There must also be a renewed focus on the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the range of agencies which work with displaced individuals who have been forced to flee because of persecution, war or violence.

While there are no easy answers, a wide-ranging humanitarian approach to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are seeking asylum across Europe needs to be established.

Forcing refugees into frantic and almost certainly illegal measures which they may not survive cannot be regarded as an option in any civilised society.

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