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Probe into refugees' deaths

WEXFORD, Irish Republic -- An international inquiry has been launched into the deaths of eight refugees whose bodies were found in a crowded cargo container.

The grim discovery was made in Ireland on Saturday by the driver of a lorry who had earlier collected the container from the Irish port of Waterford.

In the vehicle were the bodies of a boy aged around four and a boy and girl, both aged about 10 or 11, as well as a woman and four men.

In-Depth: Europe on the move 

Also inside were five survivors -- four men and a woman -- who are being treated in the intensive care unit of Wexford General hospital where they were said to be "very seriously ill."

Irish justice minister John O'Donoughue spoke of his "shock and sadness" over what had happened.

"My worst fears have been that something like this could happen -- and now they have been realised," he said.

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.

Efforts were continuing to confirm the nationality of the 13 people who could have been in the container since it left Italy with its consignment of Milan-manufactured office furniture on November 30.

First indications were that they were all from Romania, but later Irish police said one of the survivors was believed to be Turkish.

It was believed, too, that the illegal immigrants could have included four members of one family.

Police spokesman John Farrelly told the Press Association: "There are different localities and countries where these people could have got on to the container.

"It's also very difficult to say at this time how long they might have been in there."

He added: "We are determined, and I know this is being experienced right throughout Europe, that this type of behaviour should stop."

Police said they still had to establish exactly how long the refugees had been in the container where they died.

The bodies and the survivors were found when the driver of the truck -- said by police to be "totally innocent in all this" -- heard noises coming from the rear of his vehicle.

He and his assistant then discovered the seal of the container had been broken and efforts made to disguise that fact.

Last year, 58 Chinese immigrants who were found dead in the back of a lorry at the English Channel port of Dover.

The immigrants suffocated during a six-hour ferry crossing from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Dover as they tried to enter Britain hidden in the back of the lorry container which was laden with tomatoes.

The Dutch driver was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in prison.


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