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Stowaways tell of tortuous journey to England
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-11 22:28

The dream of making easy money in the United Kingdom turned into a "hell-like'' journey, a stowaway said Wednesday.

After the deaths last week of Chinese illegal immigrants in England, one man told of his months-long ordeal en route to Britain.

"It is no exaggeration at all to say that I walked to Britain," the man, who refused to give his name, said.

The insider said it took him more than four months to get from his home in East China's Fujian Province to the United Kingdom.

He did not take a single flight, although he and his family were asked to pay a total of 230,000 yuan (US$27,700). Instead, he caught trains, travelled in trucks and walked.

"First we took a train from Fujian to Beijing and then to Heihe (a town in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province), where we were ready to cross the border to get into Russia," he said.

During his stay in Beijing, he and 20 or so others were told to sleep on the ground of an air-raid shelter, which snakeheads (people smugglers) called a "hotel," and were given only rice with soybean and preserved pickles to eat.

Before leaving for Beijing, he paid 20,000 yuan (US$2,410) as a "sign-up fee" to the snakeheads.

But after arrival in the capital, they asked his family to pay another 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) for certificates, which they told him would let him leave the country legally.

But the money seemed to have gone elsewhere, because he did not get into Russia legally as promised. Instead, he and others were walked across the border between China and Russia by another snakehead. At the end a truck was sent to pick them up to Moscow.

"In Moscow, there are a lot of stowaways like me waiting to go to different destinations. The boss (snakehead) almost robbed us penniless there. We were asked to pay for everything," he said.

The man learned from some experienced stowaways how to hide money in half-empty toothpaste tubes to keep it safe from the snakeheads.

And women may have lost more than money.

"We often saw women stowaways summoned to the snakehead's room and crying when they got out," he said.

In Moscow, no one was sure how long they would have to stay before moving onto their destinations.

It depended on the mood the snakehead was in and how friendly he and the stowaway were, the insider said.

"When the boss (snakehead) finally informed me that I could go to Britain, I was so happy," he said, adding he didn't expect the journey that followed to be even more tortuous.

He said he and the other stowaways had to go to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands before finally arriving in the United Kingdom.

"Usually a snakehead sent us to the border of a country in a truck, then gave us to a new snakehead who would walk us across the border to another country. We have climbed mountains and trudged across rivers on the way," he said.

In the last trip from the Netherlands to Britain, they were seated in a truck which was hidden on a ship and reached Britain by sea.

Recalling the journey, the insider said they had almost walked themselves to death.

"Some people did die on the way, but the snakeheads did not care at all. They had their money anyway," he said.

After arriving in London, they were sent to a place the British snakeheads called "yaziliao," a small house selling ducks.

"Only when our family at home paid all the money the snakeheads asked for could we leave with friends or relatives in Britain," he said.

If the payment was delayed for three days or more, stowaways would be asked to pay an additional US$300 each day as "penalty" and were threatened with beatings or death.

"Later I found we were like cargo, sold from one boss to another. Every new boss would ask us to pay and trucks are the vehicle they carried us in," the man said.

There are many other people smuggling routes from China to the United Kingdom, he added.

A man from Fujian's Fuqing called "Ajie" told him that he first walked from Kunming in Southwest China to Vietnam, then to Cambodia, and finally walked across primeval forest to reach Thailand.

"Ajie said a lot of people died in the forest. He had seen many bodies on the way," said the anonymous source. "But he was luckier than me, because he flew from Thailand to the Netherlands before going to Britain."

Other stowaways stayed in France for several months before entering Britain. The insider said staying in France for months was not bad at all.

"Some people have walked for three years. On the way they have been caught by police more than 60 times and sentenced to prison and fined many times. But with a false identification certificate, they were not repatriated," he said.

After telling his story, the anonymous source refused to talk about his current life in Britain.

He only wanted to remind those who planned to sneak into Britain and work there for money that the United Kingdom "is not a place where gold is everywhere at all."

"In fact, people like me, without education and unable to speak their language, can hardly land a job in the United Kingdom. The jobs we can find are very dangerous and very hard work, like picking shellfish," he said.

The man said many people could not afford to rent a room and slept on the streets.

According to Wang Xiaokun, a reporter with China Central Television Station (CCTV) in the United Kingdom, shellfish pickers such as those killed at Morecambe Bay can earn less than 300 British pounds (US$540) per month.

As it costs 100 British pounds(US$187) to rent an ordinary house for a week, these people have to live a miserable life to save money and mail it back home.

Morecambe victims still unidentified

None of the cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay last week have been identified yet.

The Chinese Embassy in Britain and consulate-general in Manchester have received materials on 12 missing people and transferred them to the British police, a Chinese diplomat said yesterday.

As of yesterday, however, no names had been put to the faces of the victims, said a consul surnamed Yu from the Manchester consulate-general, during a telephone interview with China Daily.

"British police have told us they would need some time to finish the job," he said.

"I want to reiterate that the Chinese Government firmly opposes all forms of illegal migration and will crack down heavily on snakeheads."

People who arrange illegal immigration operations are known as snakeheads.

Frontier police in East China's Fujian Province, believed to be the hometown of the victims, plans to co-ordinate with British police if the officers are sent there to investigate, said Wang Bing, vice-chief of staff of the frontier army in the province.

A total of 12 families in Fujian have had no contact with relatives in England since the tragedy, local police said.

The recent tragedy, in which 19 people were killed and 16 rescued from the rising tides, put the spotlight on China's efforts to fight people smuggling.

In Northeast China's Liaoning Province, the Intermediate People's Court of Shenyang yesterday opened a trial against snakeheads who tried to sneak more than 100 illegal migrants out of the country last year.

Frontier police in Liaoning, from where many stowaways travel South Korea and Japan, have uncovered 288 illegal migration cases and arrested 845 stowaways and 101 snakeheads.

Since last November, frontier police arrested six of the top 10 most notorious snakeheads in Fujian, frontier officials said.

Besides, due to the international nature of immigration crimes, countries need to work together, said Luo Tianguang, a senior official in charge of consulate affairs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Tian said China and some foreign countries have taken great strides in their fight against illegal migration. Others, however, have adopted a "double standards" on migration or political asylum policy, causing the number of stowaways to increase rapidly in recent years.

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