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Cockle picker tragedy stirs UK, China to action
Updated: 2004-02-10 16:38

Britain and China are exchanging police officials to tackle the problem of human trafficking highlighted by the deaths of 19 mainly Chinese migrants in England, a British diplomat said on Tuesday.

Seventeen men and two women died last week when they were caught by fast-rising tides as they collected cockles in Morecambe Bay. Two survived.

Britain plans to post a law enforcement liaison officer to its embassy in Beijing in the next few weeks to "take forward our cooperation with the Chinese on this and on other immigration crimes", embassy spokesman Alex Pinfield said.

A number of Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials had been seconded to the British Home Office to help identify Chinese illegal migrants, he said.

"We have been stepping up our engagement with the Chinese authorities to tackle this problem together," he added.

British police have arrested at least seven people on suspicion of manslaughter over the drownings. Their investigation could become a global inquiry into people-traffickers -- known as "snakeheads" -- suspected of providing the labourers killed at Morecambe Bay.

Some Chinese newspapers reported that the dead were all illegal immigrants, the youngest a 15-year-old girl. One of the survivors was a female student.

The longest any of the group had been in England was six months, China's deputy consul general in Manchester, Wu Yangyu, was quoted as saying.

Human smuggling from China hit world headlines in June 2000 when 58 Chinese illegal immigrants from the southern province of Fujian were found suffocated to death in a tomato truck arriving at the British port of Dover from the Netherlands.

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