Fri, February 25, 2011
China > Mainland

Inside the snakehead trade in SE China's Fujian

2011-02-25 08:19:01 GMT2011-02-25 16:19:01(Beijing Time)  Global Times

An old couple sits in a village in Fuqing, Fujian Province. Most young people leave here for other countries to earn money. Photo: CFP

There's a small city within the outer city limits of Fuqing, Fujian Province, that is famous for its émigrés.

Changle is not merely a city of 680,000 people, but also the place that about 400,000 overseas Chinese call home.

Mostly it is the very old and very young that can be seen in Changle. The young and able all seem to be long gone.

Over the centuries, the city's ever-resourceful citizens and members of its criminal fraternity have developed among the most advanced methods of people smuggling in the world.

Instead of hiding in a container ship or traveling direct to the United Kingdom or the US, the Global Times has discovered that Fuqing emigrants often prefer to take a legal travel visa to one country before detouring to their real destination.

Although this method involves more time and money, sources confirmed a surge in its popularity among customers of the notorious "snakehead" smugglers.

The Global Times interviewed a Changle resident surnamed Huang who requested anonymity after recently returning to Fuzhou and opening up a restaurant.

This carrier of a Canadian green card is also now a father-to-be, expecting his first son in July.

Everything in his life is "perfect" now, or as he put it: "I'm legit now."

The 36-year-old returnee no longer needs to hide from immigration department officials in either Canada or the United Kingdom as he did for nearly a decade.

His grand adventure began back in 2000.

"I decided to go to Britain," he said. "I had no idea what would happen. I just wanted to earn more money and most young people in our village were doing the same."

Before the fateful decision, Huang had worked in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, mostly restaurant and construction site work.

The income was "awful, and merely covered the costs of daily life," he said.

"Back then the snakeheads were all over our village. They appeared the very next day after I asked one of my friends how to find them.

"I don't know how they knew it so fast. I even suspected they bugged my home phone."

The snakehead cut a deal with Huang for $80,000, with a quarter of the money up front. Then he took down Huang's national identity card and other basic personal information.

A month later, Huang received a passport with a travel visa to Moscow and so began his "long march" to Britain.

Huang didn't know a single word of English at that time, let alone Russian. He immediately got in trouble with Moscow airport customs, but was lucky enough to be helped out of the tense situation by a fellow Chinese.

Huang then met a new Chinese snakehead outside the airport and was driven to a house three hours away.

"We had almost no conversation," Huang said. "He just told me he would send me to a shelter where I could hide for a few days.

"After we arrived, a middle-aged Russian woman opened the gate. She chatted with the snakehead for a few minutes and I don't think she was happy to see me as her tone sounded angry."


Huang was led to a room where he saw some 10 people already sleeping, all people like him.

He was then told by one of them the Russian woman was like an agent who charged $3 a person a night.

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