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World - Americas

Smuggling Chinese immigrants into Canada called big business

shipping boat
Customs officials in Vancouver, British Columbia, found a shipping crate containing human cargo over New Year's weekend  

January 13, 2000
Web posted at: 10:31 p.m. EST (0331 GMT)

In this story:

'Not a good way to travel'

Canadians target suspected containers

Effort aimed at preventing illegal immigration

China: Don't believe need for political asylum


From staff and wire reports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- About 1 million shipping crates a year enter Canada through the port of Vancouver -- and while finding one containing human cargo is a long shot, Customs inspectors, acting on a tip, found two over New Year's weekend packed with illegal Chinese immigrants.

Canada today

"It was ascertained, from an inspection looking for narcotics in a container, there was actually life in the containers," said Canadian Customs inspector John Henwood. "Officers contacted individuals, and we had to remove the containers from the vessel."

Monday's discovery of three dead Chinese immigrants in a shipping container in Seattle helped refocus attention on the growing business of using several West Coast destinations as points of entry in attempts to gain political asylum.

The 25 immigrants taken into custody over New Year's weekend, all of them apparently in good health, face deportation unless they convince a Canadian immigration court that they are legitimate refugees. All of them have applied for refugee status.

'Not a good way to travel'

Henwood described the horrible living conditions found in the huge containers -- some approaching the size of small mobile homes -- as the illegal immigrants made their way east through the sea aboard cargo ships.

"There were mattresses laid out on the floor, it was pretty dirty, wasn't very healthy, not a good way to travel. Definitely not first class," he said.

Buckets substitute for toilets. Small generators in each container supply power as immigrants survive on bottled water and little food.

Canadians target suspected containers

Canadian authorities have now begun targeting containers they suspect of holding immigrants -- and expect more ships carrying immigrants are on their way.

"We look at what it is and where it's coming from, and that's a separate profiling of the vessels themselves, because we want to know where they've been," said Mike McWhinney of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Grant Learned said, "Intelligence coming out of the People's Republic of China talks of 18 million people poised to put themselves in that degree of peril to make the type of voyage to one country or another."

Most of the illegal immigrants come from China's eastern coastal province of Fujian and are thought to be headed for the United States.

Many of the immigrants head for New York, where a huge network exists to house the immigrants and employ them so they can pay off their indentured servitude to the smugglers.

Investigators estimate that international Chinese smuggling is a $10 billion business run by organized gangs who have managed to stay well out of the reach of international law enforcement.

"When you're talking about the people responsible for your $10 billion, you're talking about people, I imagine, comfortably ensconced in a board room somewhere ... and it's probably not in Seattle and it's not in Vancouver," said George Varnai with Citizen and Immigration Canada.

Some of the shipping crates are the size of small mobile homes  

Effort aimed at preventing illegal immigration

Canadian Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said this week she would visit China in April to warn potential immigrants against turning to people-smugglers who would only exploit them.

Last year, some 600 illegal Chinese immigrants arrived on Canada's west coast in dilapidated boats and immediately sought refugee status. Some said they had promised smugglers $60,000 each.

China: Don't believe need for political asylum

China said on Thursday that countries should not be fooled by illegal immigrants from China claiming political asylum or refugee status.

"To achieve their aim of staying for a long time overseas, some illegal immigrants create excuses and even tell lies in applying for so-called political asylum or refugee status," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao told a news conference.

"If those countries are easily taken in by their tales and accept their applications, this will encourage a wave of more illegal immigrants," he said.

Correspondent Don Knapp and Reuters contributed to this report.

ASIANOW - China's Fujian repatriates 246 stowaways from U.S. Illegal immigrants use new tactic -- cargo transport Suspected illegal immigrants found in cargo container in California ASIANOW - Protesters in Hong Kong demand release of would-be immigrants ASIANOW - Tide of illegal immigrants washes over Australia Boat with Chinese immigrants sinks off Guatemala Immigrants held by INS for deportation go on hunger strike

Government of Canada Site / Site du gouvernement du Canada
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade / Minist¸re des Affaires ˇtrang¸res et du Commerce international - Canada
CIC Canada - Welcome to Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Chinese Embassy in Washington DC

CIA World Factbook: Canada
CIA -- The World Factbook 1999 -- China
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