Published: 13:50, 10 June 2020
| Updated: 13:51, 10 June 2020
The death, 20 years ago next week, of 58 young Chinese people found in a sealed container at Dover docks, will be remembered in Refugee Week.
Organised by migrant support group Seeking Sanctuary, the commemoration on Saturday, June 20, will include a service on Dover seafront that will also remember all others who have died trying to reach the UK for a better life.
The Bishop of Dover Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin will lead the service at 11.30am in front of a limited number of people.
It will be live streamed to allow for social distancing.
The tragedy of the 58 Chinese unfolded on June 18 2000. Just before midnight, 58 dead bodies were found in a Dutch lorry at Dover Docks. Two people survived the ordeal.
It was later determined the Chinese migrants were trapped in the container for 18 hours and likely died of asphyxiation, although carbon monoxide poisoning was a possible cause of death.
The driver, 33-year-old Perry Wacker from Rotterdam, was sentenced to 14 years in prison at Maidstone Crown Court the following year for his part in a people smuggling operation coordinated by a Chinese gang.
A court heard he'd closed the only air vent to the container.
Nine members of the gang were later jailed for their part in the tragedy.
The 56 men and four women set off from China weeks before the lorry entered the UK, having each paid £20,000 to a Chinese snakehead gang.
In Belgrade they were taken to a safe house and given fake Asian passports before being taken into Hungary and smuggled through Austria and France and in to the Netherlands where they were again taken to a safe house.
It was in Rotterdam where they would be crammed into a lorry full of tomatoes and sent on the final stretch of their arduous journey.
The details were recounted to the court in harrowing detail by the two survivors of the journey, Su Di Ke, 20, and Ke Shi Guang, 22.
They explained when they left the Dutch city of Rotterdam the air vent was tied open and they were given four buckets of water for the journey.
The vent was closed by Wacker before he left Belgium to avoid the migrants being spotted.
They were trapped inside the air tight container for more than nine hours on one of the hottest days of the year.
The two survivors were the last loaded in to the lorry and were dragged out barely concious at Dover.
It appears the people smugglers have not learned the lessons from the past tragedy.
On October 23 last year there was the discovery of 39 bodies in the back of a lorry at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex.
The truck had entered the country at Tilbury from Zeebrugge, Belgium, carrying the Vietnamese nationals.
Driver Maurice Robinson, 25, of Northern Ireland, was charged with manslaughter, people trafficking, immigration and money laundering.
This year's Refugee Week is from June 15 t June 21.
"It is a is a sobering time and reminds of the many others who have died attempting to reach the UK..."
Before the service at Dover next Saturday, People Not Walls will be hosting a virtual rally on the theme of protecting and safeguarding children in and near Calais.
The demonstration is against them being denied justice and exposed to unsanitary conditions whilst listening to the enticements of traffickers which lead them to undertake dangerous Channel crossings.
This rally will conclude by switching to the Seeking Sanctuary event in Dover.
Ben Bano, from Seeking Sanctuary, said:
"The 20th anniversary of the deaths of the 58 young Chinese who lost their lives from overheating and suffocation in the back of the lorry is a sobering time and reminds of the many others who have died attempting to reach the UK. We also need to recall the lasting effects on the emergency services and other staff who had to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy.
"We are fortunate to be joined in our remembrance by Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin."
To join People Not Walls' virtual rally, register for free here.