Late on the evening of February 5, 2004, television viewers in the UK were told that emergency services were trying to rescue a group of people trapped by the incoming tide in Morecombe Bay, an expanse of mudflats in the north of England.
By the following morning it was known that at least 23 men and women had perished; that they had gone into the bay because they were being paid to pick cockles from the mud; that all of them were from the PRC, and that all them were working illegally after being smuggled into the country.
Media reports following up on the tragedy described a world of snakeheads and gangmasters. The former are criminal gangs who help people leave the Chinese mainland and reach other countries. The latter are labor agents who supply workers - often but not always undocumented aliens - to farms and factories.
One of the journalists covering the disaster and its aftermath was Hsiao-Hung Pai, a Taiwan-born London-based freelancer for The Guardian. Just a few weeks earlier, Pai had co-written an article for The Guardian about an illegal mainland Chinese migrant worker who fell ill and died after a 24-hour shift in a microwave-oven factory in the English town of Hartlepool.
After Morecombe Bay, Pai went undercover to better investigate the conditions in which Chinese illegals live and work and the problems they face. Her experiences posing as an undocumented foreign worker, plus a longstanding interest in migration history, resulted in a number of front-page stories, and more recently a book.
Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labor, Pai's first book, was published by Penguin Books on April 23 this year...
The complete article is here.
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