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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 12:39 GMT
Bitter regret of victim's widow
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Fuqing, Fujian province, China

Three people have been convicted in connection with the deaths of at least 21 cocklers in Morecambe Bay in February 2004. Most of the cocklers were from Fujian province in China and had left seeking a better life.

Li Jinying
Li Jinying thought her husband would be fine in Britain

Li Jinying is a friendly woman in her early 40s. She sits on an old wooden chair in the corner of a room, knitting.

On the wall above her there is a large framed photo of Mrs Li and her husband. They are young and smiling on their wedding day.

"I will love you forever," reads the English script underneath.

With a weak smile Mrs Li bids me to come in. Apart from her chair and an old dresser the room is virtually bare.

From the dresser she pulls out more photos of her husband. The last one was taken a little over two years ago, just before he left for Britain.

"I didn't want him to go, but he insisted," Mrs Li tells me. "It was for the good of our family, he said."

When the news started trickling through that at least 21 Chinese people had drowned off the north-west coast of England, Mrs Li did not worry.

Deadly waters

"I had talked to him just a few days before and he said there was nothing to worry about," she said. "Anyway, I knew he was a strong swimmer, not like other Chinese. I knew he'd be fine."

Li Jinying's photographs
Mrs Li's mantelpiece is full of photos from happier times

But her husband Liu Guogong was not fine. His was the last of the bodies to be pulled from the deadly waters of the Irish Sea. With bitter tears she remembers the day she got the news.

"Every day I regret I didn't stop him going. It's worst at the Chinese New Year festival. I see families getting together to celebrate. I don't envy those with money, I just envy those who are a family."

Her husband borrowed 15,000 to pay for his trip to the UK and for 10 weeks Mrs Li heard nothing. Then suddenly a call - he was safe, he had arrived in Britain.

Her relief soon turned to disappointment.

"He would call and tell me how tough life in Britain was. Work was always difficult to find. The hours were very long and the money bad. He said it was hell, that he wished he had never gone."

Liu Guogong
Liu Guogong borrowed 15,000 to pay for his passage to Britain

Despite such stories, and the tragedy of the Morecambe Bay drownings, the flood of young migrants leaving this part of south-east China continues unabated.

In a nearby house, Mrs Li takes me to see her husband's uncle. Unlike Mrs Li, Lin Yiming lives in a spacious three-storey house.

On the sofa his wife is cradling a tiny baby, only five months old. "This is my grandson," Mr Lin tells me with pride.

"He was born in Japan but last week my daughter-in-law brought him back to stay with us."

It turns out Mr Lin's son and daughter-in-law are both living in Japan illegally.

"They work very hard," he said. "My son often works two shifts in the factory, the day and the night. That way he can make more money."

Mr Lin himself spent 10 years in Japan working in factories and restaurants.

"That's how it works round here," he said. "Young people go out for 10 to 15 years and save enough money to come home and build a house like this one."

The evidence is all around the village. Mr Lin's house is modest compared to some.

Ornate villas

Up the hill behind the village a crop of new villas is sprouting out of the farm fields. Some of them are huge.

They will keep going because they want to make a better life for their families
Lin Yiming

They are surrounded by high walls and large iron gates. Several are five and six stories high with ornate balconies and colonnades.

All of them have been built with money sent back from a husband or a son working overseas.

Mr Lin is sad about the loss of his nephew, but he is also philosophical.

"Morecambe won't stop anybody going to the UK," he said. "It's simple, what you can earn in the UK in a month will take you a year or even two to earn here."

Li Jinying mourning
Mrs Li says she tried to stop her husband from leaving

"What about the danger and the hardship?" I ask him.

He laughs dismissively.

"People know all about the risks and hardship," he said. "They expect it, but they will keep going because they want to make a better life for their families. If you stay here you'll be poor your whole life.

"Look at what happened in Morecambe - one guy survived because he was feeling ill and went home early. A month later the police caught him out on the sands collecting cockles.

"The fact that 23 of his friends had died didn't stop him, and it won't stop others following."

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