Britain and other European countries must accept some responsibility for the deaths of 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, found dead in a refrigerated truck near London, the state-backed Global Times said on Friday.
Paramedics and police found the bodies of 31 men and eight women on Wednesday on an industrial estate at Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (30 km) east of the British capital.
For years, illegal immigrants have stowed away in trucks while attempting to reach Britain, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.
At the moment it was impossible to say how much responsibility the dead should bear for the tragedy, the widely-read Chinese newspaper said in an editorial.
“But such a serious humanitarian disaster has occurred under the eyes of the British and Europeans,” it said. “It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death.”
Even if found to have been smuggled into the country, the victims’ death was not their fault, added the paper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.
“We hope that Britain and European countries will put into effect their various commitments to human rights and make due efforts for Chinese people to be free from abuse and sudden death.”
Britain appears not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago, it added.
“Imagine how thoroughly European countries would take measures if dozens of Europeans were collectively tragically killed in some way,” the paper said.
“Could the British and European people ask themselves why they have not been able to avoid a similar tragedy…Did they take all the serious remedial action that they could have?”
China has not formally confirmed the victims are citizens.
On Friday, the Chinese embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex that met police.
“The British police said they are verifying the identity of the deceased, and at present are unable to be certain that they are Chinese nationals,” the embassy said.