Repeated migrant deaths highlight need for global cooperation
Liu Jianxi

Editor's Note: Liu Jianxi is an opinion editor with CGTN Digital. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In 2000, 58 migrants were found suffocated to death in a shipping container in Dover, Kent, England In 2004, 23 illegal laborers were drowned by sweeping tides while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, also in England. In 2015, 71 people lost their lives in a locked truck transiting Europe illegally. Last week, in the latest tragedy of this type, 39 bodies were found in a lorry trailer outside of London, the apparent victims of illegal migration and human trafficking.

Once a safe, prosperous, and highly-civilized continent, Europe is now increasingly connected with catastrophic migrant deaths. The UK, with its competitive public welfare system and high demand for low-skilled laborers, is always the most popular destination for those seeking shelter in Europe. Statistics from Migration Watch UK suggests that the number of illegal migrants in the country is rising by 70,000 per year – nearly equivalent to the size of the full-time British Army.

To tackle this, the UK, together with its European counterparts, has introduced a slew of measures, intensifying border checks, toughening up immigration rules and strengthening supervision of migrant laborers.

In 2004, the British parliament passed the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act as a response to the Morecambe Bay disaster, requiring agencies in shellfish and other food-packing sectors to be registered and licensed. In 2016, the European Migrant Smuggling Center was established following the death of 71 migrants. Databases, including the Schengen information system, were also formed to track fraudulent passports

However, security-related fixes do not necessarily mean a drop in the illegal immigration population. Stricter checks at crossing points cannot shatter the bubbles migrants have about living in the UK, but instead may push traffickers to take a more circuitous and perilous route to cross the border. To dodge security checks, a large number of illegal migrants are packed in containers in transit to Europe, risking their lives to reach the "promised land."

Hoang Thi Nhiem, sister of Hoang Van Tiep, who is believed to be one of the 39 victims in the UK death truck, weeps during an interview in Nghe An Province, Vietnam, October 28, 2019. /VCG Photo

Hoang Thi Nhiem, sister of Hoang Van Tiep, who is believed to be one of the 39 victims in the UK death truck, weeps during an interview in Nghe An Province, Vietnam, October 28, 2019. /VCG Photo

Intended to curb human trafficking activities, the toughened migration policies may have instead contributed to the casualty rate of illegal migrants. More than 4,000 people are believed to have died or gone missing on migratory routes around the globe for each of the last five years, the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project said in its 2019 report.

A policy that results in higher possibilities for casualties may itself be a problem. Human trafficking is a sophisticated activity where the interests of different, sometimes cross-border parties are inextricably intertwined, and thus cannot be addressed simply by strengthening security checks or toughening migration rules. It requires collaboration among international players.

The 39 deaths in the UK are believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Colossal profits may be a major reason for the rampancy of human trafficking. "It's a huge business," Vernon Coaker, a British MP, was quoted by ABC as saying, adding that, "Some people say it's more lucrative for these criminals than the drugs trade."

To woo more people, especially those living in disadvantaged and rural areas, smugglers have blown a huge bubble for their potential prey, depicting life in developed countries as a type of wonderland. This has encouraged migrants to spend their life savings – tens of thousands of U.S. dollars – on the make-or-break container trip to reach the "new land."

"Back in Vietnam, I thought Europe was pink. But it turns out it's black," 19-year-old Bui Thi Nhung, who is believed to be one of the 39 victims in the refrigerated truck, posted on Facebook while she was in Berlin.

The UK truck disaster is a tragedy for all mankind. The complexity of the challenges determines the need for coordinated efforts around the world. While the UK may need to adjust its migrant policies, it's high time that international players get united, jointly combat smugglers and destroy their appallingly scaled industrial chain. 

In theface of human tragedy, it is not time to calculate personal gains and losses. While less developed countries need to crack down upon the agents of "snakehead" – trafficking gang leaders – and shatter their pink bubbles at the root level, developed countries can put more effort into investigating the intricate links between different parts of the human trafficking chain. A concerted joint effort is the only solution to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.

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