UK police: 35 stowaways are Afghans from country's tiny Sikh community


UK police said Sunday that the 35 people -- 34 of whom survived -- discovered Saturday inside a large metal shipping container aboard the Nordstream freighter at London's Tilbury Docks have been identified as Afghan Sikhs.

According to Associated Press (AP), the delay in identification was due to 'language difficulties and lack of documentation.' Initially, police thought the group was Indian.

On the Trail of the Tilbury Stowaways
On the Trail of the Tilbury Stowaways

ITV News has obtained footage (below) of the 34 survivors being released from the container. The distressing video shows the men, women and children -- ranging in age from 1 to 72, according to AP -- sitting on the floor screaming, while officers and border staff are seen attempting to assist the group.

The passengers were suffering from dehydration and hypothermia when they were discovered in the 'metal coffin,' according to Metro.

According to Reuters, the container arrived from Zeebrugge in Belgium -- a 3,600 mile journey -- and staff at the port only became aware of the group 'after hearing screaming and banging.'

Police said Sunday that 30 of the 34 survivors were taken for treatment at Southend, Basildon and the Royal London hospitals, according to the The Telegraph. AP reported that most have been released and are with authorities, who are preparing to interview the group.

'Now [that] they are well enough, our officers and colleagues from the Border Force will be speaking to them via interpreters so we can piece together what happened and how they came to be in the container,' Superintendent Trevor Roe of Essex Police said in a statement.

According to AP, Belgian police are tracing movements of the truck that delivered the 40 ft. x 8 ft. container to the Belgium port on Friday, as they believe the stowaways were there before the container arrived at Zeebruge.

Belgian police spokesman Peter De Waele told Metro that the 'containers are monitored on camera' and that 'their seals are subject to 'very strict' controls.''

"We saw that this container was there for one hour in all in an area where there is a lot of cameras, a lot of people and a lot of cars driving. It was around 6pm so it wasn't dark," he said.

"We think that the possibility [is that] the victims were already on the container before it was put down in Zeebrugge because in that area it is rather impossible to put 35 people in that container.

"That is not exact information. I think the investigation has to give answers to this question."

Once numbering more than 100,000, the Afghan Sikh population in Britain is now down to 3,000. Sikhs make up a tiny minority in Afghanistan, the group's population around 31 million.

Chairman of the Sikh Federation UK told Metro, 'It is a disgrace the persecution of the tiny minority of Sikhs from Afghanistan has largely been ignored and it takes an incident like this to remind us all that they are also being exploited by human traffickers.'

The Red Cross has reportedly provided food and welfare for the survivors.

Warning: This video contains extremely harrowing images and audio.

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