Hsiao-Hung Pai recounts her visits to family members of the 23 Chinese migrants who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004. As well as their grief, many were left with heavy debts incurred to pay “snakeheads” for their relatives’ passage to Britain. From The Guardian:
In the Jiangkou township of Putian, I found Liying, the sister of Xu Yuhua, who drowned in Morecambe Bay with his wife Liu Qinying. Liying looked frail and worn out, but was strong in spirit, as she had been in her letters and phone calls. She had supported her orphaned nephew, Xu Bin, with the income from her job as an assistant to an overseas Chinese businessman. In fact, the whole family’s livelihood – her father, sister, daughter and unemployed husband – depended on her. Xu Bin had studied hard and passed the university extrance exam. He wanted to fulfill his parents’ ambition for him, and was planning to go to Britain to further his studies before building a career back home.
Liying and I went to visit a woman named Jinyun in her village near Fuqing. The winding lanes led to a semi-furnished two-storey house where she lived with her entire family. We talked on an old couch set against the concrete walls. I had been exchanging letters with Jinyun and her two sons, who were in high school when their father, Lin Guo Guang, drowned in Morecambe Bay. “Guo Guang’s first job in England was on a building site where he got paid £40 a day,” Jinyun said. “That was why he resorted to cockling.” Jinyun has brought up her sons on her own, working as a nanny and earning £60 a month. By summer 2009, she had managed to pay off half the debt of 200,000 yuan (£20,000) left by her husband (the remainder was paid by donations from the UK). “I pretend he’s still working in England and just hasn’t sent money home,” she said. “It’s much easier than thinking he’s gone forever.”
For details of the tragedy, see The Guardian’s 2004 report.