Opinion Editorial

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Editorial: 'Thoughts for the 39 truck victims must turn to action'

An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England. Photo: UK Pool via AP
An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England. Photo: UK Pool via AP


We are again reminded that reports of tens of thousands of migrants travelling against the odds across continents are just statistics. But the raw stories of families' and individuals' suffering make us all reflect on the sheer awfulness of life sometimes.

Early reports of Irish links to the horrific finding of 39 bodies in Essex, near London, gave an added piquancy to this latest shocking news.

When English police were called to a freight terminal, just 48km from central London, they found that 39 people were dead inside a Bulgarian truck. A local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price, linked the grim find to people trafficking and some hauliers' representatives concurred.

A 25-year-old Irishman, believed to be the lorry driver, was detained. Police, who launched one of the United Kingdom's biggest ever murder investigations, were working hard to establish what the other Irish elements of the grim jigsaw may amount to.

The timing of the movements of a portion of the truck, through the Welsh port of Holyhead, and its other journeys on mainland Europe were being carefully charted. The potential Irish ownership of the vehicle was also being investigated. Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rightly pledged the full co-operation of the Irish authorities in all of this. As many politicians expressed sympathy with the families of the dead, Fianna Fáil's deputy leader, Dara Calleary, also reflected on overall dangers for this country.

"Ireland cannot become an easy target for human trafficking," Mr Calleary warned.

The scale of this tragedy means that even the most hard-hearted people cannot avoid reflecting upon it. Prominent among the issues we must confront are two key questions.

What desperation drove 39 people to hide in a lorry in the hope of a better life? What cavalier and mercenary excuse for a human being can bring themselves to exploit this level of distress?

The news of this tragedy harks back to that moment in September 2015 when the world pondered images of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey. The fate of this Syrian refugee, of Kurdish origin, like this latest heartbreak, transformed sheaves of grim statistics of people fleeing slaughter in Syria into a simple human story.

These moments of grim truth, which oblige so many of us to think about the dilemmas surrounding the mass movement of people, rarely last too long. Soon the media spotlight switches to other big concerns and compassion fatigue creeps in.

Our thoughts must spur us to take action. Everybody has something to contribute as part of the "fee" for simple membership of the human race.

We can lobby for Ireland to raise an international voice on zero tolerance for the horrid business of trafficking. We can look to what we can do to help refugees and asylum seekers. We can extend a welcome to those obliged by fate to come here.

These 39 people had hopes, fears and ambitions; they were probably just like ours.

Irish Independent

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