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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

13 kids among 35 Afghan Sikh stowaways

PTI  London, August 18, 2014
First Published: 22:14 IST(18/8/2014) | Last Updated: 22:16 IST(18/8/2014)

Footage of the group of Afghan Sikh stowaways rescued from a shipping container from a UK port shows at least 13 children, including one as young as one-year-old.

The illegal immigrants from Afghanistan were found screaming and banging for help inside a shipping container at Tilbury docks in Essex on Saturday.

The officer leading a homicide inquiry after a man’s body was found inside the container along with 34 other people said members of the Sikh community from Tilbury were assisting officers and helping to care for the stowaways.

They were hospitalised and those released from hospital include nine men and eight women aged between 18 and 72, and 13 children. Four survivors remain in Southend hospital.

The Essex police revealed that the man who died after the container was opened was believed to have been in his 40s and a post-mortem examination was carried out on Sunday but further tests were set to be undertaken to establish the cause of death.

“We now understand that they are from Afghanistan and are of the Sikh faith. We have had a good deal of help from partners within the local Sikh community in the Tilbury area to ensure that these poor people, who would have been through a horrific ordeal, are supported in terms of their religious and clothing needs,” said Trevor Roe, superintendent of police, Essex.

There were fears that another container with people inside may have arrived on the ship, but no one else was found after all the ship’s containers were searched.

The container was on a P&O-owned commercial vessel, the Norstream, that carries freight between Zeebrugge in Belgium and Tilbury.

Peter De Waele, a spokesperson for the federal police in Belgium, said it appeared to be impossible for the 35 people to be loaded into the container in the time it was at Zeebrugge, a port in the north of the country.
Sikhism is a minority religion in Afghanistan, and the population is limited to a few thousand. Many have fled since the Soviet invasion in the early 1980s, when the population stood at more than 1 lakh. Sikhs in the country have previously complained they are ostracised.

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