Mourning families on Wednesday received 16 bodies of the 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex last month, amid crowdfunding campaigns to help debt-laden relatives bring their remains home.
Relatives have waited weeks for the bodies to come home, after they were discovered in a refrigerated container in Essex in October.
The remaining 23 bodies are locked in a state of limbo, as families cannot afford to bring them back.
Authorities had asked the families to consider accepting the ashes of their relatives,according to local media, as it was cheaper than flying a body and coffin around the world.
Cremation goes against traditional Vietnamese funeral and burial ceremonies, and most families are still trying to get the bodies back in tact.
Families initially thought that the British government would pay the £2,200 it costs to repatriate each body, but then it was understood that Hanoi would foot the bill.
Local officials finally announced that they would lend money to the families for the flight, which they would have to pay back within 30 days.
Many of the families took on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for their loved ones to travel to the UK, including taking loans from other relatives, loan sharks and banks, assuming that they would be able to pay off the debt once the migrants found work in the UK and started to send money back home.
The 16 bodies were transferred to ambulances and returned to Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh, in the country’s north-central region, after landing on Wednesday morning.
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Huge crowds stood under leaden skies, waiting for the ambulances to make the 10-hour journey from Hanoi. Small altars had already been set up in the homes of the dead, but today they were filled candles and white roses, while families wept and mourners wore white headbands.
“After waiting for so many days, my son has finally arrived,” Nguyen Dinh Gia, the father of Nguyen Dinh Luong, told Reuters.
Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company and run by Phạm Nhật Vượng – the country’s first billionaire – said it would donate about $860 to each family, although it is not known whether the money has yet reached the relatives.
Crowdfunding pages also sprang up in the wake of the tragedy, with one raising $28,445 (£22,000), which has not yet been dispersed.