13 children among Afghan Sikhs found in UK shipping container

13 children among Afghan Sikhs found in UK shipping container

London (AFP) - The frail survivors found inside a shipping container at a British port at the weekend following a "horrific ordeal" are Sikhs from Afghanistan and include 13 children, police said Sunday.

Staff at Tilbury Docks east of London on Saturday discovered one dead man and 34 others alive after hearing banging and screaming coming from the container.

The survivors were nine men and eight women aged between 18 and 72, and 13 children aged between one and 12.

The man who died is thought to have been in his 40s, and a homicide investigation has been opened into his death.

All the survivors were taken to nearby hospitals to be treated for hypothermia and dehydration.

Four people are still in hospital, and the local Sikh community has been helping meet the survivors' religious and clothing needs.

Using interpreters, police intend to interview the survivors to pin down how they came to be found in such circumstances.

The container had arrived by truck at Zeebrugge seaport in Belgium around 12 hours before the people inside were discovered at Tilbury, having crossed the North Sea on a ferry.

They may have been inside the container for several hours before that.

"The welfare and health of the people is our priority at this stage," said superintendent Trevor Roe of the local Essex police.

"Now they are well enough, our officers and colleagues from the Border Force will be speaking to them via interpreters so we can piece together what happened and how they came to be in the container.

"We now understand that they are from Afghanistan and are of the Sikh faith.

"We have had a good deal of help from partners within the local Sikh community in the Tilbury area to ensure that these poor people, who would have been through a horrific ordeal, are supported in terms of their religious and clothing needs."

- Container scoured for clues -

The Red Cross provided food and welfare for the group overnight on Saturday, and the Border Force will take care of them once officials have finished questioning them.

A post-mortem of the man who died was being conducted Sunday while forensics experts were examining the container, though none of the survivors are under suspicion.

Tilbury port has resumed business as usual.

Cases of immigrants trying to enter Britain illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, are not rare.

The BBC quoted the UK Border Force as saying that in 2012-13, more than 11,000 attempts to cross the English Channel from continental Europe illegally were prevented at "juxtaposed controls".

In June, eight suspected illegal immigrants, all Afghan nationals, were rescued from the English Channel when their small boat lost power.

Tony Smith, a former head of the UK Border Force, said people being trafficked into Britain were the victims of criminal gangs.

"They're being exploited because the prize is a passage to the West," he told the BBC.

"They want to migrate to the UK or to Europe but they're being exploited by criminal gangs who are probably taking their entire life savings away.

"We really need to get a message out to migrants that if they want to come to this country there are legal routes that they need to explore and they need to apply for visas and permits."