The bodies of 16 Vietnamese people who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry in the UK have arrived back in Vietnam.
They were among 39 migrants – eight women and 31 males, including two boys aged 15 – found in the lorry in Essex on 23 October.
The bodies were flown to Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport, and will be taken by ambulance to their family homes.
Investigations are under way in both the UK and Vietnam – several people have been arrested or charged.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. We will organise the funeral as soon as he’s returned,” said Vo Van Binh, the father of one victim, Vo Van Linh.
Speaking to AFP from Ha Tinh province, he said the family were “very sad, but happy as finally my son is back”.
The bodies of the remaining victims will be repatriated in the coming days, though a date has not been publicly confirmed.
Repatriation of each body will cost each of the victims’ families more than 66.2 million Vietnamese dong ($2,856; £2,204), according to the vice minister of foreign affairs.
The Vietnamese government had offered loans to relatives, though some have said this will only add to the debts they incurred by helping their late relative make the journey to the UK.
Several Vietnamese organisations have helped to raise money for the families of the victims. More than $110,000 has now been crowdfunded to help support the families.
What happened to the victims?
On 23 October, police found the bodies at the back of a refrigerated lorry in the town of Grays in Essex, eastern England.
Police initially believed the victims to be Chinese nationals but it was later revealed that all 39 of them were from Vietnam.
One of the victims, Pham Thi Tra My, had sent distressing messages to her family on the evening of 22 October.
“I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,” it read.
“I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad.”