Police said they believed the man found at Tilbury docks was Meet Singh Kapoor, from Afghanistan, who was 40. Thirteen children aged as young as one were among the Afghan Sikhs rescued from the container on Saturday, a Guardian report said.
Members of the 35-strong group found screaming and banging after arriving at the Essex port from Belgium have finished speaking to police and are now being cared for by Home Office officials, Essex police said. They are in the process of applying for asylum, the report added.
Inquiries will continue after a post-mortem examination carried out yesterday on Kapoor proved inconclusive. The last four people remaining in Southend hospital, two adults and two children, left today, the report said.
Supt Trevor Roe said: “Tragically, one man died on the voyage and the investigation into his death is now being led by us. These people were found in an awful situation and our main priority is to look after them and ensure they are now safe following what would have been a horrendous ordeal.”
Kamaljit Singh Mataharu, a translator used by police, told ITV News that the group believed they would have died if they remained trapped for another 30 minutes. He added that they told him: “It was pitch black, without any air. It soon became extremely uncomfortable.”
Mataharu said there were 15 families, all from Kabul, packed into the container after they had travelled to Europe in a lorry. They told him they had been inside the container for 18 hours, the report added.
He said: “A little boy just said to me that he tried to wake his dad, but his dad didn’t respond, and then they found out he was dead.”
He had tears in his eyes while doing his translation work. “I normally never cry, but looking at these kids, how desperate they would have been to put their lives in such a state.”
Roe said: “The welfare and health of the people is our priority at this stage. 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.”
Bhai Amrik Singh, chairman of the Sikh Federation (UK), said: “It is a disgrace the persecution of the tiny minority of Sikhs from Afghanistan has largely been ignored and it takes an incident like this to remind us all that they are also being exploited by human traffickers.”
Nick Alston, police and crime commissioner for Essex, said: “The death of the man in a container found at Tilbury on Saturday was a shocking incident. One person died and many others might very easily have done so.”
He said the developments should “highlight for us the evil of the abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable,” adding: “The police and partner agencies are continuing to investigate the circumstances of those found in that container. But we can be sure that almost all cases of human trafficking involve exploitation by callous organised criminal gangs.”
Footage obtained by ITV News apparently shows members of the group after they were released from the container. The clip shows some of the migrants sitting on the floor while the sound of wailing and shouting can be heard, says Guardian.
A Home Office spokesman, according to the Guardian, said all the people involved were now in the process of claiming asylum in Britain. He said: “We are continuing to provide expert support, along with the National Crime Agency, to the Essex police investigation into the discovery of 35 people in a container at the port of Tilbury on Saturday.
“This tragic incident is a reminder of the devastating human consequences of illegal migration and we will do all we can to help bring those responsible to justice. Following the conclusion of police interviews, the individuals involved have now been passed into our care. All 34 are now in the process of claiming asylum in the UK and we are providing accommodation and support to those who require it while their cases are considered.
“The UK takes its international obligations extremely seriously and has a proud history of offering protection to those who need it.”