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Snakeheads expose cruelsome truth
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-13 00:27

Though British authorities have not identified 19 cockle pickers who drowned at Morecambe Bay in the United Kingdom, 16 families in East China's Fujian Province have reported their relatives missing and fear some may be among the victims.

And among those, 15 of the families are from Fuqing, a city in Fujian Province.

According to an insider, some 30 per cent of able-bodied labourers who once lived in Fuqing are believed to live abroad now.

Why would so many Fuqing residents want to go abroad, even at a huge cost?

An insider, who had worked as a human smuggler, or snakehead as locals say, for 10 years and wanted to be known by the alias Lin Hai, told some of the stories he has witnessed to China Daily.

Lin said the craze to go abroad among people in Fuqing started with some advertisements in the early 1990s.

"Some companies in Fuzhou (capital of Fujian Province) posted advertisements in Fuqing then, recruiting people to work in Japan and claiming that after paying less than 100,000 yuan (US$12,050) people can earn an annual income of 200,000 yuan (US$24,100) there," Lin said.

Several thousand residents in Fuqing went to Japan this way, and some of them came back and became snakeheads themselves to smuggle more locals to Japan, he said.

At that time, almost all stowaways from Fuqing chose Japan as the destination, and prices varied depending on the smuggling route.

He explained that 100,000 yuan (US$12,050) was enough to smuggle a man to Japan by sea, and 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) would be required if stowaways wanted to leave with a false passport.

Since stowaways who arrived in Japan before the year 1995 have earned a lot of money, the number of Fuqing locals leaving for Japan in the next five years has risen to an astonishing level, he said.

At the end of the 1990s, villages in the Fuqing area have seen more and more houses being built and private cars bought.

However, along with the rising population of stowaways from Fuqing in Japan, the number of crimes committed by illegal immigrants from Fuqing have also been increasing.

It has attracted attention from the Japanese Government, which has strengthened its crackdown on human smuggling and implemented tighter checkups on illegal immigrants from Fuqing in Japan, Lin said.

As it was becoming more difficult to sneak into Japan, snakeheads started to smuggle people to countries in Europe, especially the United Kingdom.

"More Fuqing locals stowed away for Britain because the country has an aging population which lacks labourers, and there were plenty of opportunities for illegal employment with a wage 10 times higher than that in China or eastern European countries," said another anonymous snakehead, who had organized stowaway groups to the UK.

He said the first batch of stowaways from Fuqing to Britain have earned a fortune there, working in fields ranging from nursing to setting up their own businesses.

"They could earn an annual income of 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) on average then, but with more people going, it is becoming more difficult to find a satisfying job,'' said the insider. "So snakeheads started introducing stowaways to work as gatherers of cockle shells."

People from Fuqing have also been smuggled into France, Germany, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, Lin said.

The cost of smuggling humans to countries like Germany and France is about 150,000 yuan (US$18,000).

According to Lin, after arriving in countries like Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Italy, stowaways to Germany and France will be carried in containers and hidden in ships or sometimes taking underground routes, bribing border police and even walk to another country.

Lin added the population working as snakeheads in Fuqing now is "huge."

"Many snakeheads belong to one family, and others are friends. They co-operate with each other, take charge of different areas of human smuggling, and get rich by sharing money from the stowaways," he said.

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