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Stowaways Walk a Winding Way to UK

The dream of making easy money in the United Kingdom turned into a "hell-like" journey, a stowaway told China Daily Wednesday.

After the deaths last week of Chinese illegal immigrants in England, one man told of his months-long ordeal en route to Britain.

"It is no exaggeration at all to say that I walked to Britain," the man, who refused to give his name, said.

The insider said it took him more than four months to get from his home in east China's Fujian Province to the United Kingdom.

He did not take a single flight, although he and his family were asked to pay a total of 230,000 yuan (US$27,700). Instead, he caught trains, traveled in trucks and walked.

"First we took a train from Fujian to Beijing and then to Heihe (a town in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province), where we were ready to cross the border to get into Russia," he said.

During his stay in Beijing, he and 20 or so others were told to sleep on the ground of an air-raid shelter, which snakeheads (people smugglers) called a "hotel." They were given only rice with soybean and preserved pickles to eat.

Before leaving for Beijing, he paid 20,000 yuan (US$2,410) as a "sign-up fee" to the snakeheads.

But after arrival in the capital, they asked his family to pay another 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) for certificates, which they told him would let him leave the country legally.

But the money seemed to have gone elsewhere, because he did not get into Russia legally as promised. Instead, he and others were walked across the border between China and Russia by another snakehead. At the end a truck was sent to pick them up to Moscow.

"In Moscow, there are a lot of stowaways like me waiting to go to different destinations. The boss (snakehead) almost robbed us penniless there. We were asked to pay for everything," he said.

And women may have lost more than money.

"We often saw women stowaways summoned to the snakehead's room and crying when they got out," he said.

In Moscow, no one was sure how long they would have to stay before moving onto their destinations.

It depended on the mood the snakehead was in and how friendly he and the stowaway were, the insider said.

"When the boss (snakehead) finally informed me that I could go to Britain, I was so happy," he said, adding he didn't expect the journey that followed to be even more tortuous.

He said he and the other stowaways had to go to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands before finally arriving in the United Kingdom.

"Usually a snakehead sent us to the border of a country in a truck, and then gave us to a new snakehead who would walk us across the border to another country. We have climbed mountains and trudged across rivers on the way," he said.

"Some people did die on the way, but the snakeheads did not care at all. They had their money anyway," he said.

After arriving in London, they were sent to a place the British snakeheads called "yaziliao," a small house selling ducks.

"Only when our family at home paid all the money the snakeheads asked for could we leave with friends or relatives in Britain," he said.

If the payment was delayed for three days or more, stowaways would be asked to pay an additional US$300 each day as "penalty" and were threatened with beatings or death.

"Later I found we were like cargo, sold from one boss to another. Every new boss would ask us to pay and trucks are the vehicle they carried us in," the man said.

There are many other people smuggling routes from China to the United Kingdom, he added.

A man from Fujian's Fuqing called "Ajie" told him that he first walked from Kunming in southwest China to Vietnam, then to Cambodia, and finally walked across primeval forest to reach Thailand.

"Ajie said a lot of people died in the forest. He had seen many bodies on the way," said the anonymous source. "But he was luckier than me, because he flew from Thailand to the Netherlands before going to Britain."

"Some people have walked for three years. On the way they have been caught by police more than 60 times and sentenced to prison and fined many times. But with a false identification certificate, they were not repatriated," he said.

He only wanted to remind those who planned to sneak into Britain and work there for money that the United Kingdom "is not a place where gold is everywhere at all."

(China Daily February 12, 2004)

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