The Irish Primate has decried the “horror” and “evil” of human trafficking after the “grim” discovery of the remains of 39 people in a refrigerated container near the Essex docks.
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Archbishop Eamon Martin offered prayers for the 39 dead at a Mass Sunday in Saint Patrick & Saint Colman’s Cathedral in Newry, County Down, in the Diocese of Dromore.
It is thought that they began their fateful journey in Bulgaria, where human trafficking rings are especially active.
Belgian prosecutors revealed that the containers in which the dead had been travelling was labelled as “biscuits”.
The Northern Irish 25-year-old truck driver, Mo Robinson, appeared in court Monday charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and counts of acquiring and concealing criminal property.
Several other people have also been questioned by police in connection with the deaths.
At the Mass in Newry, Martin, who is also Archbishop of Armagh, said he had been “shocked” by the news of the dead.
“I encourage everyone to pray for those who have perished, for their loved ones, for all those caught up in this gruesome situation and for those who are called to respond.
“Pray that the identities of the dead can be quickly established and that all those responsible be stopped and brought to justice”, Martin said.
The Archbishop recalled that Pope Francis described human trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society – a scourge upon the body of Christ”.
“Migrant smuggling and human trafficking feeds on the desperation of vulnerable people, many of whom are fleeing from violence or economic uncertainty”, Martin denounced.
“Smugglers and traffickers exploit children, women and men who are prepared to use drastic measures to reach what they think and hope will be a better life, often only to be enslaved and manipulated in forced labour or prostitution”.
Archbishop Martin said the “horror” of the dead discovered in Essex “should awaken us all to the reality that human trafficking could be happening right in front of us – in our own parish and in our own town”.
“Let us resolve to raise awareness, to keep our eyes open and to cooperate at all levels of society for an end to this evil in our midst”, the archbishop urged.
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