Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Photo of Pham speaks a thousand words about the victims behind the headlines of the 39 who perished in container

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Aaron Chown/PA)
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Aaron Chown/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

In just a few words and with a picture, the vast and heartbreaking scale of the tragedy that unfolded in an airless, freezing trailer en route to Britain has been made plain.

The mother of Pham Thi Tra, a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman, received the sort of text messages from her daughter that no parent would ever want to receive. One shudders to imagine the horrifying conditions inside that trailer when the message was sent at 10.28pm on Tuesday as a desperate Pham texted her mum to tell her she was "dying because she couldn't breathe".

And then the final goodbye: "I love you so much... I'm sorry."

With suspects being questioned in this ongoing case, we cannot of course comment on the investigation. But as more photos of the dead, and their stories, are revealed, we shall be reminded time and again that these 39 victims - eight women and 31 men - are not mere statistics but real human beings with families, who are now mourning for them.

As always, the pity and pathos emerges as we read of the people behind the headlines. The texts are reminiscent of those sent from those inside the World Trade Center and aboard the planes on 9/11, or from inside Grenfell Tower.

People at their most vulnerable in every sense, facing the end of their lives, bidding their loved ones farewell.

Such tragedies are a forcible reminder of our shared sense of humanity.

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To look at Pham's photo is to see a fresh-faced young woman with hopes and dreams and plans.

Her family claim she paid people-smugglers £30,000 to travel to the UK via China "in search of a better life".

Over the coming days there will be yet more debate about hard borders and soft borders, and the best way to prevent similar tragedies unfolding again.

Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra Thomas
Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra Thomas

But amid all the conjecture we should pause to reflect on that photo of Pham - and what has been lost.

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