Total number of arrests in Vietnam rises to 10 in connection with deaths of 39 people found in truck in UK last month.
The bodies arrived on a commercial Vietnam Airlines flight from London to Hanoi, where ambulances and security personnel waited at the airport.
“The plane landed with 16 bodies on board … we are waiting to transfer the bodies to local authorities,” the source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An official letter seen by AFP confirmed that 16 bodies would arrive in Vietnam on Wednesday. The 16 victims came from three provinces in central Vietnam.
The other bodies are expected to be returned home in the coming days, although officials have not confirmed the date publicly.
Families have been waiting for weeks for their relatives’ return, and many have taken out hefty loans from the government to cover the cost of repatriation.
“After waiting for so many days, my son has finally arrived,” Nguyen Dinh Gia, father of victim Nguyen Dinh Luong, told Reuters.
“We are deeply saddened, but we have to hold back the emotion to organise the funeral for my son,” Gia said by phone from his home in Can Loc, Ha Tinh province.
Five of the 16 victims were from neighbouring Nghe An province, an official there said.
The remains were expected to be delivered later on Wednesday to relatives in three central provinces – Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh – so families could hold funerals.
The bodies of 31 men and eight women were discovered in a refrigerated container on a truck in an industrial state east of London on October 23.
Police initially identified the victims as Chinese but families in Vietnam later came forward fearful their relatives were on the truck.
The United Kingdom is a leading destination for migrants from Vietnam.
Many arrange trips through shady brokers who promise them well-paid jobs, and end up working in nail bars or on cannabis farms, deep in debt for their dangerous trips.
Several families of the 39 victims told AFP news agency they borrowed thousands of dollars to pay for their relatives’ trips to Europe.
They are now further in debt having taken loans from the government to bring their relatives home.
Families were given two options for repatriation: $1,774 to bring back ashes, or $2,858 for the cost of a coffin carrying the body.
Though relatives were encouraged by authorities to opt for ashes “to ensure speed, low cost and sanitation safety”, many paid more for the bodies to carry out traditional burials.
Cremation is rare among communities in Vietnam’s countryside.
Most of the victims came from just a handful of central Vietnam provinces, which are among the poorest in the country and where well-entrenched networks of illegal brokers facilitate risky trips abroad.
Ten of the victims were teenagers, including two 15-year-old boys, and 30 of the group came from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces.
They paid thousands of dollars to brokers who promised the truck was the safer option – billed as the “VIP route” – their families told AFP.
On Monday, the Northern Irish driver of the truck, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, pleaded guilty to conspiring to assist illegal immigration.
He also admitted to acquiring cash that came from criminal conduct but did not plead guilty to 41 other charges levelled against him.
Several other people have been arrested in the UK over the incident while Vietnam has held at least 10 people, though none have been formally charged.