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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Living in fear of the people smugglers
Chinese woman and airport
Many immigrants are in huge debt to the traffickers
"They told me 'if you don't pay something we will keep your child'," said 'Chen' recalling the moment when she learned her daughter had been kidnapped by the Snakeheads.

The Chinese gangsters had taken the child hostage after Chen failed to make a repayment on the debt she owed them for arranging her illegal passage to England.

Chen said news of her daughter's kidnap hit her hard.

"In Chinese culture children are like the flesh of your heart so my heart was aching. It's hard for a parent to know their child is in danger because they've missed a payment," she said.

We would rather commit suicide in England than go back to China

Asylum seeker

Chen believed her daughter's life was in grave danger because she had learned that when a man from her village in the Fujian province in south-east China had got behind with his payments the Snakeheads had killed his son.

"They threw him in the river. The police knew but they did nothing," she said.

However Chen found the money for the missed payment and her daughter was released unharmed after 10 days.

False papers

Chen came to England a year ago to join her husband who she said had been forced to flee China three years ago after being framed for a murder.

He also entered the UK illegally and both are now claiming political asylum.

Chen said her father, a retired teacher, arranged for the Snakeheads to bring her to England.

She was told to take a plane to Singapore. The Snakeheads then provided her with a false passport and a visa to enter France from where she flew to Britain.

Fujian map
Fuzhou is a major base for human traffickers
The Snakeheads demanded the equivalent of 20,000 for the trip with 2,000 paid up-front.

She also had to sign a contract guaranteeing the rest of the money would be paid and putting up her house and daughter, who stayed behind, as security.

She said the Snakeheads charge about 100 a month interest which was the most profitable part of the deal for them.

"They are not so worried about people paying off the capital as long as they keep paying off the interest," she added.

Chen said it would take her many years to repay the debt especially as her husband who was now ill and unable to work also owed the Snakeheads money.

She works illegally in two sweatshops and a Chinese restaurant to make the repayments.

But she said her jobs, the first of which she starts at 6am and the last of which finishes at 1am earn her only around 200 per week.


But Chen believed she and her husband were still better off in Britain than in China.

"Our room is small but it's our own and we're being looked after through the social services system otherwise we could afford not to pay off the debt. It's really much better than China," she said.

She said they would still like to return to China one day but in the present circumstances that would be impossible.

Chen added that some of her friends had their applications refused and had been returned to China but that she and her husband would rather commit suicide in England than go back.

She said: "If we pay off the debt and the Chinese government stop looking for us then we will definitely go back.

"But now there's no way we can go back now or the Snakeheads will harm us."

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | Europe
Illegal immigrants: UK overview
19 Jun 00 | UK
58 dead in port lorry
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