16 of 39 bodies found inside UK truck arrive in Vietnam

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2019   •   799

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – The first 16 of 39 bodies found inside a refrigerated truck in England last month arrived Wednesday in Vietnam to be handed over to their families, according to airport officials.

The plane landed at 5 am local time (10 pm, Tuesday, GMT) at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport, more bodies are expected to arrive in the coming hours or days, as Vietnamese authorities did not reveal specific details.

According to digital newspaper VNExpress, 16 ambulances waited at the airport to transport the bodies to Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces, where the victims came from. The journey usually takes seven to 10 hours by road from Hanoi, but may take longer on this occasion due to heavy rainfall in the region in recent days.

One of the victims’ family members told EFE that police would only announce the arrival of the bodies 30 minutes in advance and had asked them to remain home until then.

The cost of repatriating the bodies falls on the families, whom the Vietnamese Government offered 30-day loans of 1,370 pounds ($1,760) last week to bring back the ashes of their loved ones and 2,208 pounds for the bodies to return in coffins.

Apart from the government initiative, a crowdfunding campaign through the Gofundme portal has raised $27,415, and private entities have also made contributions, such as a 620 million dong ($26,714) donation by Vingroup, the country’s largest business conglomerate.

This financial aid offers great relief to these families, who face debts of thousands of dollars required to pay networks that facilitate illegal migration to the UK.

According to Mimi Vu, an expert on people smuggling and human trafficking, Vietnamese migrants pay up to $50,000 to reach Europe – an amount almost always borrowed.

British police have arrested seven people in connection with this case, while Vietnamese authorities have arrested 11 from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces. EFE-EPA

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No new ‘hybrid’ COVID variant in Vietnam — WHO

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 4, 2021

The “hybrid” coronavirus variant which Vietnam officials thought was a combination of strains first identified in the U.K. and India does not meet the definition of a new variant, the World Health Organization’s Vietnam representative told Nikkei newspaper Thursday.

“There is no new hybrid variant in Vietnam at this moment based on WHO definition,” Dr. Kidong Park, the global health body’s Vietnam representative, said in an online interview.

Dr. Park said the variant detected is a delta variant which was first detected in India and has appeared in other countries.

Park added that there is no alarming alert from WHO, as of the moment but still stressed the dangers of the delta variant since it is highly contagious.

The WHO representative clarified the matter after Vietnamese authorities expressed alarm and announced that a newly discovered variant could have contributed to the COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. AAC

DOH on reported hybrid COVID-19 variant from Vietnam: ‘No need to panic’

Robie de Guzman   •   May 31, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday allayed public concerns over the reported hybrid coronavirus variants said to have been detected in Vietnam.

In an online press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there is no need to panic over the news, adding that the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet received full details of the apparent coronavirus variant.

The WHO monitors and keeps track of the COVID-19 variants reported in different countries.

 “Ang proseso po kapag tayo ay nakaka-detect ng additional mutations o bagong variant kung sakali sa isang bansa, isinusumite po ito sa WHO dahil ang WHO po ang nagma-manage nitong GSAID na tinatawag na network. It’s a system where you classify the variants of concern para lahat ng bansa alam ‘yan at nakapag-iingat,” she said.

Media reports stated that Vietnam has discovered a new COVID-19 variant, which is said to spread quickly by air and is a combination of strains first found in India and the United Kingdom.

Vergeire said the WHO is still verifying such report.

“Nagbigay rin ng pahayag ang WHO over the weekend at ang sabi nila, they have not received the full details of this apparent variant na tinatawag sa Vietnam at aantayin daw po nila na makapag-verify sila at makapag-aral ng mabuti para makapagbigay ng guidance para sa mga member countries ng WHO,” she said.

“For now, we still do not have sufficient evidence for this,” she added.

The DOH reminded the public to continue adhering to health protocols as this will help them avoid transmission regardless of the variant.

“Kailangan natin laging tandaan: whatever variants that there maybe dito po sa ating bansa, kung tayo po ay strictly nagpapatupad ng health protocols natin at tayo po ay nagpabakuna, tayo po ay protektado,” she said.

“Alalahanin po natin yan, hindi po natin kailangang mag-panic dahil po sa balitang ito. Paigtingin lang po natin ang pagpapatupad ng ating health protocols and we will be protected from any of these variants,” she added.

Hontiveros calls on the DFA to address fake passports used in human trafficking

Aileen Cerrudo   •   May 4, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Senator Risa Hontiveros has called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to take actions against fake passports being used in human trafficking.

During a Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday (May 4), Hontiveros said the DFA should look into illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called “baklas passport.” Under the said scheme, the trafficked individual assumes the passport details of another person.

Hontiveros revealed three accounts of Filipino Muslim girls who were victims of human trafficking. They were identified as Omaima, Aleah, and Lenlen (not her real name). During the hearing, the women attested that their passports were fabricated to hide the fact that they were underaged.

“Our witness, Lenlen, went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018. Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport?” the senator said.

One of the Filipino Muslim girls who were trafficked to Syria as minors also said that her passport was ‘baklas’ or fake.

The senator asked if there was a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals. She also called on the Foreign Affairs Department to conduct an investigation on its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports.

Another survivor of human trafficking in Syria said she was recruited when she was 14 years old. She said she was also a victim of verbal sexual harassment by an employee of the Philippine Embassy in Syria.

“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad. We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women,” Hontiveros said.

Meanwhile, pastillas scheme whistle blower Alex Chiong confirmed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers have a Viber group chat that displays the list of names of women to be trafficked out of the country. The list may include underage girls with fraudulent passports.

According to the BI, the immigration officer who stamped the passport of 2018 survivor Lenlen in the list of individuals, is being investigated by the agency for being part of outbound human trafficking activities.

“If we find that this is syndicated trafficking, or trafficking committed by a group of three or more persons conspiring or confederating with each other, the prescription period is 20 years.  Let’s all help finally resolve this revolting issue. Let’s do all we can for our children,” Hontiveros said. AAC

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