Six women who spent hours trapped in the back of a refrigerated truck have been rescued in France after sending distressed text messages to a BBC reporter.
The six women, four of whom are Vietnamese nationals and two from Iraq, boarded the truck, which was carrying bananas and sealed by an iron bar, believing it was on its way to the UK or Ireland.
However, the women, who spent over 10 hours inside the vehicle, later realised the direction of the truck had changed based on location data on their phone and texted a BBC reporter on Wednesday in a panic.
“It’s so cold, it [the cooler] keeps blowing,” one of the women texted reporter, Khue B Luu.
Ms Luu, who was based in London and did not know the women, had earlier covered the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in a UK lorry in 2019 – a tragedy she said was still “fresh” in her mind when the request for help came through.
The young woman on the truck sent Ms Luu two videos, including one which showed the women crammed among fruit boxes, with only a few dozen centimetres of space to sit.
A woman could also be heard coughing and saying “I can’t breathe” in English.
One of the women was able to share her live GPS location with the reporter, who reached out to colleagues living in France to help contact the closest police station.
At one point, location sharing was interrupted and the young woman texted Ms Luu saying the air conditioner had been turned off.
“We’re so suffocated,” she wrote.
French police later tracked down the location of the women and managed to intercept the vehicle, which was actually heading to Italy.
French prosecutor Laetitia Francart said the truck had a temperature of 6C and the driver was not at fault.
The women told investigators “they climbed aboard the truck thinking they were going to England because of the Irish registration plates,” Ms Francart said in a statement, as perABC News.
“After several hours on the road without a stop, they realised their mistake and alerted a journalist.”
All six women were briefly detained in France before being released.
Four of the women were told they have 30 days to leave France, while two have been permitted to stay in the country pending asylum requests, according to the BBC.
The incident comes almost four years after the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated in the back of a truck in Essex, London in October 2019.
A Romanian man, who was part of a human smuggling ring, was sentenced to over 12 years in prison over the deaths of the 39 men, women and children in July.
Four other gang members were imprisoned in 2021 for manslaughter and another 18 people were convicted in Belgium.