LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A gruesome discovery of 39 bodies in a refrigerated container on a truck in Essex on Wednesday morning “highlights the urgent need for more safe and legal routes to migrate and to seek asylum,” says the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Police say the 31 men and 8 women were all Chinese nationals, and the Northern Irish driver of the truck has been taken into custody on suspicion of murdering them.

The trailer had arrived from Belgium, while the cab of the truck arrived from Dublin through Wales. Police raided several properties in Northern Ireland in connection to the case, saying organized crime elements may have been involved.

Human traffickers often use shipping containers to transport people, since the sheer volume of the container trade means the vast majority of them can’t be searched.

Britain’s National Crime Agency warned in 2016 that using containers on ferries to smuggle people was “the highest-priority organized immigration crime threat.”

Sarah Teather, the director of JRS UK, called the news “devastating.”

“The desperation of those in the container is an indictment of our failure to provide sanctuary to those in flight for their lives. This horrendous tragedy highlights the urgent need for more safe and legal routes to migrate and to seek asylum,” she said in a statement.

“If the government wants to ensure this does not happen again, it is not enough to focus only on criminal gangs — it must ensure that those seeking sanctuary in Britain can get here safely. It must build bridges, not walls,” Teather continued.

The death of migrants in shipping containers is not uncommon in Europe, but the Essex discovery is the worst incident since 71 people were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria in 2015. In 2000, 58 Chinese nationals were found dead in a truck in Dover.

Maurice Wren, the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said the latest news is “depressingly predictable and avoidable.”

“If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs. These gangs are a symptom of a much deeper problem – namely governments’ failure to provide safety to those who desperately need it,” he said. “As long as we think the answer to this tragedy is about building high walls and impenetrable borders, this will keep happening.”

Wren called on the UK government to introduce “safe and regular” travel routes, and to “widen the definition of family members” under refugee family unification rules.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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