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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
The deadly journey
Police work near where the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants were found
Only two out of 60 stowaways survived a ferry crossing
By BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Margaret Gilmore

Though guilty - Perry Wacker played just one part in a professional smuggling operation that spanned half the globe.

Behind the whole operation were gangsters known as snakeheads who operated in the Chinese province of Fujian, from where all those who died in the lorry came.

The 58 people who died had started their ill-fated journey many months earlier, 8,000 miles away in the Chinese province of Fujian.

Most were young and had dreamed of fortunes to be made in the West.

Lin Shui was one of them. His family borrowed heavily to pay the 17,000 demanded by the smugglers to get him out.


My son went because he wanted to make money to send back to help us his family

Lin Xianbing
Father of victim
The cash was handed over to criminal gangs known as snakeheads.

Lin Xueze's father Lin Xianbing, is now griefstricken.

"My son went because he wanted to make money to send back to help us his family," he told the BBC.

When he left China Lin Xueze followed a wellworn route, travelling by air via Moscow to Belgrade in Yugoslavia.

At this point the snakeheads destroyed their Chinese passports and replaced them with fake Korean ones.

From here on, those who have done the journey say it becomes a living hell.

Mountains

Lin Zhen Gui did it three years ago. He spent months climbing over mountains or huddled in lorries, accompanied every inch of the way by snakeheads.

He made it but his brother, who followed him to the West, died on Perry Wacker's lorry.

"Everything was run by snakeheads," he said.

"When my brother got to Hungary he phoned. I told him to go back to China - to avoid the journey and the hard life in England.

"But the snakeheads wouldn't let him."

From the Balkans the illegal immigrants were taken by sea - or overland - in small groups, sneaking across borders until they reach the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Criminals

In June last year the snakeheads handed over their latest charges to a sister gang operating in Holland, made up of Dutch and Turkish criminals.

They set up a bogus company, bought a lorry and hired unemployed Perry Wacker to drive it.

A lorry being searched
Lorries are searched daily for stowaways
But 60 immigrants were shut in the vehicle and during the journey to England their main air supply, a small vent, was closed.

The court said Wacker shut it and then went to watch films on the cross channel ferry. Fifty-eight of the 60 migrants on the lorry died.

Relatives in China were distraught as over the months the bodies were identified.

Yet the lethal trade in people smuggling is growing and could soon become more lucrative for the criminals - than drugs trafficking.

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