Dover tragedy relatives want Britain to pay out

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The Independent Online

Relatives of the 58 Chinese immigrants who suffocated to death in June attempting illegal entry into Britain believe the Government should accept responsibility for the disaster and pay compensation accordingly.

Relatives of the 58 Chinese immigrants who suffocated to death in June attempting illegal entry into Britain believe the Government should accept responsibility for the disaster and pay compensation accordingly.

Some of the bereaved family are also concerned that the corpses of the deceased will be cremated before they can bid their loved ones a final goodbye. They are now seeking funds and approval from the Chinese authorities to come to Britain as soon as possible and visit the bodies, which are still being held at the Kent police morgue.

The families' demands were raised at a series of meetings convened by the Chinese government last week across Fujian, their home province. Local authorities hope to resolve their own investigation before allowing a visit by British police, who have been kept waiting for almost two weeks. The meetings also form part of a crackdown on human trafficking and the "snakehead" gangs who control the trade.

"It is only reasonable that we should be compensated" said Wang Lin, father of a 25-year-old apprentice chef who died in the tomato truck commandeered for human cargo. "The British Government should admit the accident was their responsibility. But however much they pay, we worry that China will not handle the issue openly, and we will never see the money."

At a meeting last Friday in a small town outside the provincial capital, Fuzhou, the demands raised by Mr Wang and five other family representatives brought angry responses from assembled county and provincial officials.

The requests seem to be desperate attempts to recoup some of the high fees paid to snakeheads for passage abroad, and to compensate for lost future earnings from the unsuccessful migrants. Mr Wang, 59, and his wife paid 200,000 yuan (£16,000) for their son's ticket to a new life. "The snakeheads have fled, we won't get any compensation from them," he told The Independent. "Now all our money is gone, and our only child too."

The demand for compensation was news to the British embassy in Peking and Kent police, whose spokesman, Mark Pugash, commented that "compensation is a political issue, and not for the police to decide, though one issue could be where exactly they died, as this may not be under British jurisdiction".

After the long wait for news of missing relatives, most families have now made formal identifications through photographs of the corpses brought back to China by Fujian police. Mr Wang also gave a blood sample for DNA testing to allow final confirmation.

But Mr Wang was despondent about the chances of his son's corpse being returned. "We reckon only the ashes will be returned to China," he said. "All the relatives want to do is to go and see our loved ones, but we cannot afford to, and the government will not allow us. Who would pay for us to visit, or for the corpses to be returned?"

Yet fears that the victims will be cremated in England may be groundless. "Cremation is virtually inconceivable," Mr Pugash said. "The expectation is that the bodies will stay here until identification is complete, then be turned over to the Chinese and repatriated."

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