That container had also been shipped across from Zeebrugge, Belgium, and the authorities later said the immigrants might have been brought over from the Chinese coastal province of Fujian by a criminal gang.
The deaths scandalized China at the time and prompted the government to announce a crackdown on human trafficking. But even as China has become the world’s second-largest economy in the 19 years since, the discovery on Wednesday was a reminder that many Chinese people remain mired in poverty and make desperate attempts to seek better lives abroad.
Many Chinese people also continue to leave the country to escape official repression and to seek political asylum. Experts say the numbers have fallen through the years, given China’s growing wealth, but reliable statistics on informal migration are hard to find.
Some attempting to make their way into Western countries pay middlemen known as “snakeheads” to facilitate the journey. It can cost about $50,000 to $60,000 to be smuggled into Europe and $70,000 to $80,000 for the United States, according to Sheldon Zhang, a University of Massachusetts Lowell professor who specializes in human smuggling involving Chinese citizens.
“Frankly, I am just as shocked to learn that these dead migrants were Chinese nationals,” Dr. Zhang said in an email on Friday. “I thought the snakeheads would have learned by now, from the Dover incident in 2000, not to use the lorries to transport human beings.”
Many of those who died 19 years ago were economic migrants who came from the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian. Chinese news outlets call their hometowns “foreigners’ villages” where businesses have sprouted up, offering “courier services” for people to send their children to the West.
In recent years, experts said, the main demographic leaving China for economic reasons has expanded to include people from the northeastern provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang, where economic growth is depressed; and Wenzhou, a bustling coastal city in eastern Zhejiang Province.
2 More Arrests After 39 Bodies Are Found in Truck in U.K. – The New York Times