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Bereaved families hope to retrieve kin
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-13 00:46

Family members of the missing and deceased Chinese cockle pickers who were caught in fast-rising tides in a northwestern English bay last week urged British and Chinese authorities to allow them to fly to Britain to help with identification and retrieval of the bodies.

A total of 16 families in East China's Fujian Province have had no contact with relatives in the United Kingdom since the tragedy last Thursday in Morecambe Bay, local police said.

Nineteen Chinese migrants, comprising 17 men and two women, drowned on a beach while gathering shellfish. Another 16 cockle pickers, including 14 Chinese and two Europeans, survived the incident.

If the identities of the dead have been confirmed, Britain's Fujian Association will provide help for victimized families to retrieve the bodies, association representative He Jiajin said yesterday.

The association will provide legal aid to members of the victim's families and help them to sue the local bosses for manslaughter, He said.

British police said yesterday that eight of the victims have been matched to profiles provided by British immigration authorities. There is no guarantee, however, that those profiles provide the true identities, since the victims were in the country illegally.

Still, the local coroner has not released the bodies of the victims, said Liz Riding, a spokeswoman for the Lancashire Constabulary in England which is leading the investigation.

British police on Wednesday released five people who were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter involving the 19 cockle pickers. Two women were set free on police bail, while three men were released but then handed over into the custody of British immigration services, Riding said yesterday.

The five had originally been on the list of the 16 survivors.

One day earlier, British businessman David Eden and his son, also named David, voluntarily turned themselves in to police, were released on bail but are due to reappear before authorities on April 12.

Illegal immigration between China and England started to pick up steam about 15 years ago, Edward Venning with the British National Crime Intelligence Service told China Daily yesterday in a telephone interview.

Many of the stowaways are on the hook to snakehead human smugglers who are often associated with organized crime both in Europe and at home in China, Venning said.

"The snakeheads often have some very strong contacts abroad and they may have a parent group back in the home country,'' he said.

"Being an island, England has fairly tight borders, meaning that if you want to get into the country (illegally) you will need to contact an organized crime organization.''

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

The Ministry of Public Security has enhanced co-operation with Britain and other countries to fight against immigration crimes in recent years, ministry officials said.

According to the United Nations, there were about 3 million illegal immigrants in Europe by 1998, a huge jump from the less than 2 million in 1991.

In 2000, China jumped to sixth on the list of home countries of asylum seekers to Europe with 12,906 refugees while in 1999, China ranked ninth with 10,506 refugees, according to UN statistics.

In August 2003, six Chinese citizens from Fujian drowned near Viet Nam when human smugglers tossed them overboard in an effort to lighten their weight and evade authorities.

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