Vietnamese people-smugglers offer different levels of service at vastly different prices, anti-trafficking experts, migrants and their family members told Reuters. The choices are either “Grass” or “VIP”.
“If he took the ‘VIP’ route, there’s a 1% chance he was captured. It’s the safest and most expensive route,” said Nguyen Dinh Gia, who son Nguyen Dinh Luong was among the 39 migrants found dead in a truck container near London.
“If he took the grass route, I’m 100% sure he died,” Gia said. “The vehicle in this incident … that’s the grass route.”
Many trafficked Vietnamese end up working in illegal cannabis farms in Britain but “grass” in this case is a slang word used in Vietnam to describe something as dirt cheap.
That option, which involves travelling from the Southeast Asian country overland to Europe, means arduous months of secretive movement by car and even walking.
“They’ll often go from Vietnam into China, and then cross into Russia,” said Mimi Vu, an independent anti-trafficking advocate based in Ho Chi Minh City.
“This is usually done by automobile, and then they’ll go from Russia into one of the neighbouring countries like Ukraine or Latvia on foot, crossing forests and mountains only at night.”
Taking the “VIP” route typically involves using fake or recycled passports to fly from Vietnam to Europe via a third country in a process that takes days instead of months, but comes at a much higher cost, she added.
“He said, if I take the ‘grass’ route, it costs 3,000 pounds to go from France to Britain. But if he takes the ‘VIP’ route, it’ll cost 11,000 pounds,” Gia said of his 20-year-old son.
Several migrants, their families and experts gave the 11,000 pounds ($14,000) figure as the going rate to be smuggled from Germany or France to Britain.
“Luong told me he chose the ‘VIP’ route, so I don’t understand how he ended up on this path,” Gia added.
That could be because there was no “VIP” route for Luong’s sea crossing from mainland Europe into Britain.
However Vietnamese migrants arrive in Europe, stowing away on a container truck is the only way to take that final step across the Channel, migrants and anti-trafficking experts said.
“Parents pay for the ‘VIP’ service because they think it’ll be safer but what they don’t realise is that their son or daughter will end up in the same container truck as someone who paid for the cheap journey,” said Vu.
Having paid his way to mainland Europe and, despite his father’s wishes, Luong embarked on his final journey to Britain.
It was only later that Gia received a call from a contact overseas with direct knowledge of the fatal container accident.
“I hope you understand. The vehicle was in an accident,” Luong’s father recalled the contact saying.
“Everyone died.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)