A billion dong may only be around $43,000, but in the rural, northern-central Vietnamese town of Do Thanh, the money goes a long way, and even farmers live in palatial mansions, paid for with money sent back by family members working abroad.

"70-80% of the villas here have been built with remittances," said Nguyen Van Ha, chairman of the rural, rice-farming commune in Nghe An province.

"If you work in Vietnam earning dong, it would take a long time to build a big house like this," Ha said, gesturing to the large, multi-storey villas flanking the town hall.

In Do Thanh, even the majestic, renaissance-style church towering over the plush, neighbouring villas was built with remittance money donated by the Catholic community.

Many other victims are believed to come from outside the town, in the surrounding district of Yen Thanh. In the 1980s, Do Thanh used to be one of the district's poorest villages, according to state media.

One resident, 19-year-old Bui Thi Nhung, is thought by her family to be among the dead. She left a trail of messages on her social media account documenting her journey through Europe in the days before she boarded the fated vehicle.

Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong told Reuters on Tuesday the nationality of the victims had not been officially confirmed but that Vietnam and Britain were "trying to speed up identification of the bodies".

The grisly discovery last week on an industrial estate near London, a magnet for Vietnamese migrants, has shone a spotlight on people smugglers bringing the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.

In Vietnam, poor job prospects, encouragement by authorities, smuggling gangs, environmental disasters and government pressure on Catholics are all factors pushing people to leave.

Reuters - October 30, 2019