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Correspondent Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Dying to Leave
The bodies of the 58 dead are finally returned to China
In June last year the bodies of 58 Chinese men and women were discovered in a truck at Dover. As a British lorry driver is found guilty of manslaughter, Correspondent - a BBC documentary programme - has traced the tragedy to its source in an exclusive programme from Fujian, China.

The 58 victims trusted their lives to the Snakeheads - gangs who run a multi-million dollar empire based on human smuggling. Li Zhenquan was one of the Dover victims.

map
He was 25 years old when he left Fujian for Europe. His family bankrupted themselves by paying the Snakeheads $20,000 to send him to the UK. He was just one of thousands who leave the province each year in an economic rite of passage.

After months of wrangling between the Chinese and British governments, the bodies of the victims were returned to China under guard. The families themselves were kept away from the airport. The Chinese government wanted the arrival of the bodies to be as low-profile as possible.


I still dream of him coming home one day. We never imagined it would end like this.

Xue Shufang
The Dover event has been a serious loss of face. In the village of Houlein in Fujian Province where Li's mother Xu Ruiying and his young widow Xue Shufang waited to receive his body back.

"I still dream of him coming home one day. And how we would borrow money and throw a feast for the entire village. If only that could have happened. That was our great hope. We never imagined it would end like this" said his mother.

Customs officers searched where the bodies of the immigrants were found
What Xue wanted was a share in the spoils of this growing migrant economy. Instead Xue Shufang and Xu Ruiying face a battle to get their $20,000 back. If the plan had worked she'd soon be joining her wealthy neighbours in the village, the growing band of Fujian's new rich.

The beautiful people

In Fujian, those whose husbands send money from the sweatshops and restaurants of Tokyo, London and New York are considered the beautiful people.

Despite the risks of kidnap and death, there are already 10 million Fujianese abroad seeking a better future. Those who remain hold to the belief that it is their right to join in this economic pilgrimage, legally or illegally. Even as Li's family mourn his death, others are preparing to leave. Dover merely highlighted the problem.


Every year over 100,000 Chinese pay up to $50,000 to go overseas.

Frank Smith
In Europe the authorities are fighting a losing battle against organised smuggling. In 2000, some 40,000 Chinese "tourists" flew into Yugoslavia. Before that, the average was 300-400 a year.

Human trafficking causes immense headaches for the central government in Beijing. Every year over 100,000 Chinese pay up to $50,000 to go overseas.

Police crackdown

Now Beijing has called on the local police to act. Fujian has been flooded with police. More than 800 Snakeheads have been arrested and some 4000 would-be migrants seized.

Chief Sergeant Lin Yijin is on the frontline. He runs Guantou Police Station and his is an area notorious for Snakeheads.


The government has repeatedly called for an end to smuggling, but they have their own ideas. So we must strengthen our crackdown.

Chief Sergeant Lin Yijin
Lin's job rests on an arrest quota he needs to fill, but he knows the locals owe their prosperity to the traffickers. Here in Fujian they call the Snakeheads their 'employment agents'. A crackdown is an economic threat.

"These people are pathetic. They don't consider the harm they do to our country's image. But we have to ask ourselves if we have done enough to stop them. The government has repeatedly called for an end to smuggling, but they have their own ideas. So we must strengthen our crackdown".

It has been a long wait for the relatives in China
The Spring Festival takes place during the filming of Correspondent. It is the biggest holiday in China and a time for family reunions. Snakeheads, returned migrants and their families gather to celebrate the fruits of the illegal trade. The Snakeheads' guards may be down and Lin has his sights set on one man in particular: Chen Xiaokong, who is accused of involvement in the Dover case.

His capture will be a boost to the local police struggle. But he is only small-fry. The big Snakeheads are nowhere to be found, many of them outside China.

For Xue Shufang and her mother-in-law, the Spring Festival has brought little joy. So far, in the great Fujianese gamble they have lost. But there are enough winners in this province to keep the human cargoes flowing.

Dying to Leave: Saturday 7 April on BBC2 at 1800


Click here for transcripts

Reporter: Olenka Frenkiel
Producer: Frank Smith
Director: Sun Shuyun
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Olenka Frenkiel:
Snakeheads orchestrate human trafficking from China
Funeral:
A family mourns as they bury one of their dead

The verdict

Analysis

Trial reports

VIDEO
See also:

27 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jun 00 | Europe
19 Jun 00 | UK
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