Tougher measures to thwart human smuggling
Hua Hua  Updated: 2004-04-14 08:41

Li Zhongxun, after being convicted of illegally smuggling people to western European countries, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday by the intermediate people's court of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province.

Li registered his Sino-French "cultural exchange centre" in France in 2000. Under the guise of organizing Chinese students to take part in summer camp activities in France, he smuggled 541 people to European countries by June 2002 when his case was exposed.

He charged 130,000 yuan (US$15,660) for each stowaway.

Li received just punishment for his crimes, but the notorious snakehead's conviction also serves as a sober reminder that human smuggling continues to run rampant.

The latest statistics released by the Ministry of Public Security offer proof of that fact. In its special operation targeting border crimes from October 10 last year to March 10 this year, some 5,286 stowaways and 444 snakeheads were arrested. The majority of the illegals are from coastal Fujian Province with North American and western European countries as planned destinations.

Illegal immigration, listed as one of the 17 organized transnational crimes, poses an increasingly tough challenge to the international community and requires strengthened co-operation to curb its expansion.

Li's case also freshened people's memory of the recent accidents involving Chinese stowaways, which sent shock waves both at home and abroad.

On February 5, 20 cockle pickers were swept away by a sudden tide on Morecambe Bay, Britain. In June 2000, 58 people were suffocated in a tomato truck that arrived at the British port of Dover from the Netherlands. In 1993, a freighter carrying 300 stowaways ran aground off New York. Ten perished when trying to swim ashore.

The list goes on and on.

The stowaways turn out to be both law-breakers and victims in cases of illegal human smuggling.

They risk their lives to arrive at the destination country. Even if they succeed, their lives are miserable, like the cockle pickers. They are under the control of snakehead gangs, who exploit most of their hard-won earnings. Illegal immigrants are even regarded as "21st century slaves."

Furthermore, they live under great pressure and worry about being discovered by the immigration authorities and sent home.

The stories of some stowaways indicate they were simply conned by snakeheads, who fabricated a myth of making easy and quick money. Taking advantage of their innocence, snakeheads make exorbitant profits from them.

On the other hand, what their precedents send home is usually the bright side of the story, unwilling to let their families worry about them, and for fear of losing face in their hometown. Their stories of success only encourage those left at home to try to emulate them.

To eliminate this crime the public security department should strengthen border checks and actively seek more international co-operation. Meanwhile, efforts should be made to give people a true picture of the overseas living conditions of illegal immigrants.

(China Daily)

  Story Tools