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Refugees found dead in Ireland

WEXFORD, Irish Republic -- Eight refugees have been found dead and another five seriously ill inside a container on a lorry in south-east Ireland, authorities say.

Police said the dead -- six men and two boys -- were found when a lorry driver carrying the cargo box, which contained a load of Italian furniture from a boat, heard noises coming from the container.

"When the driver opened the back of the container he made the grim discovery," said Superintendent John Farrelly, a police spokesman, told the Associated Press. The two boys who died were both understood to be under the age of eight.

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Five others in the box, four males and a female, were hospitalized at Wexford General Hospital. "They are extremely ill, semi-comatose and dehydrated," a hospital spokeswoman said.

Farrelly said the container had been on board a cargo ship that came from Zeebrugge, Belgium, and landed on Friday night at the port of Waterford.

The truck driver, he said, had picked up the container on Saturday morning to deliver the furniture to Dublin but pulled over when he heard banging and shouting.

Local reports said the victims were Romanian, but police and hospital staff said they could not confirm the victims' nationality.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern condemned those responsible for smuggling illegal immigrants and said no effort would be spared in bringing them to justice.

"Those involved in the cruel trade of trafficking in human beings have perpetrated yet another atrocity on the victims of their greed," he told the Associated Press.

Ireland has become an increasingly popular destination for people seeking to claim asylum in western Europe.

Until recent years Ireland had virtually no foreign immigration, but that changed once the economically booming country became known internationally as the "Celtic Tiger" in the mid-1990s.

Last year Irish police were allowed by French authorities to crack down on illegal immigrants by positioning officers at French ports that provide ferry service to Ireland. The port of Waterford mostly handles cargo ships and has less police scrutiny.

Last year, 58 Chinese people were found suffocated in the back of a truck at the southern English port of Dover. The Dutch driver was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in prison.


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