Bodies of Chinese migrants flown home from Britain

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The Independent Online

The bodies of 58 Chinese whose deaths in a tomato truck in Britain last June focused attention on China's vast illicit trade in smuggled migrant labor were flown home today under intense security.

The bodies of 58 Chinese whose deaths in a tomato truck in Britain last June focused attention on China's vast illicit trade in smuggled migrant labor were flown home today under intense security.

Fifty carloads of police ringed the airport as a plane that flew the coffins from London landed shortly before 4 a.m. (2000 GMT Thursday) in Fuzhou, a migrant-smuggling center on China's southeastern coast.

A lone BBC journalist was allowed to film the arrival. But local authorities, embarrassed by Fuzhou's notoriety, barred other reporters. Police questioned a reporter who photographed a mortuary yesterday in the nearby town of Changle and told him to leave the area.

By this midmorning, most of the bodies had been cremated or buried without funerals. A mortuary employee in Changle, where an unknown number were cremated, said families were waiting in the street to receive the ashes.

Immediate cremation may have been required because of deterioration of the remains stored during the British investigation. The state newspaper Beijing Morning Post said that the bodies, returned in lead-lined wooden coffins, were seriously decomposed.

A string of military trucks led by police cars took other bodies to Fuqing, another migrant center nearby, and to Fuzhou. Three bodies were unclaimed, according to the official newspaper China Daily.

Two male migrants survived the attempt to enter Britain from Belgium. British media say Chinese police were barred from questioning them, and retaliated by delaying permission for British police to visit Fujian, the province where Changle and Fuzhou are located.

The Dutch driver of the truck where the migrants were found on June 18 is expected to go on trial next month on 58 counts of manslaughter. Two Chinese arrested in Britain have been charged with migrant smuggling.

Chinese authorities refuse to comment, but British police say they are believed to also have made two arrests.

The deaths focused attention on a trade that smuggles up to 100,000 Chinese abroad each year.

People from China's southeast have for centuries gone abroad to seek their fortunes. Looser social controls in the past two decades have unleashed a flood of emigration. But rising foreign resistance to immigration has led migrants to resort to smuggling and increasingly risky methods.

Migrants pay up to $60,000 in hopes of finding work abroad in restaurants or factories. They defy official warnings about the hazards of the journey and of dealing with smuggling gangs known as "snakeheads."

Police in Fujian have arrested more than 500 people on migrant-smuggling charges since 1999, the state newspaper Beijing Youth Daily said today.

News reports last June said local authorities, including a Fujian village Communist Party chief, were accused of helping the smuggling gangs.

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