LONDON -- British and Vietnamese police on Thursday said they have identified all 39 people who were found dead in a refrigerated truck container in Essex on Oct. 23 as Vietnamese citizens and have notified their families.
Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security said the victims came from six regions of the country, the government's official news website reported.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc "extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims" late Thursday and condemned the "human trafficking and illegal sending of Vietnamese people abroad," it said.
A spokesperson for Essex police confirmed by phone that the victims had all been identified as Vietnamese.
"This is an important step in the investigation and enables us to work with our Vietnamese police colleagues to support the families of those victims," Tim Smith, the senior officer in charge of the investigation, said in a statement earlier Thursday.
Smith added that family members will be given time to absorb the news before the police would release any additional information.
At least two dozen families in Vietnam came forward with information about missing loved ones in the days after the victims were discovered.
Essex police arrested the 25-year-old Northern Irish truck driver on suspicion of murder. He collected the container from the British freight port of Purfleet, near London, after it was shipped from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Police have also appealed for two brothers involved in a haulage business close to Northern Ireland's border with the Republic of Ireland to contact them over suspected links to the Essex case.
On Thursday, Irish police seized vehicles, electronic devices, cash and other items linked to a long-term investigation of "a group suspected of being involved in various international smuggling activities."
They said the investigation in the same cross-border areas where the Irish suspects in the Essex case were operating had "intensified over the past two weeks."
But they said their investigation "is not linked to the ongoing Essex Police investigation."
Vietnamese police have arrested at least 10 suspects after a crackdown on human trafficking launched in the wake of the deaths of the 39 migrants.
Hundreds of Vietnamese nationals are trafficked to Britain each year, according to the charity Ecpat.
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