Immigrant deaths stun Britain

An apparent human-smuggling operation that went tragically wrong has put the spotlight back on the thriving trade of ferrying illegal immigrants across borders.

Yesterday, British authorities found the bodies of 58 people in the back of a refrigerated truck that arrived in Dover, England, from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, on what was Britain's hottest day of the year so far. The refrigeration unit was switched off, arousing the suspicions of customs officials.

Two survivors, both men, were hospitalized and were expected to recover. "They are very, very important to the inquiry," said Kent county police spokesman Mark Pugash. The dead - 54 men and four women - and the survivors appeared to be from the Far East, possibly China, Britain's Home Office said.

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"What's important is to try and stamp out what is an evil trade in bringing people into this country," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Smuggling illegal immigrants has become a profitable - and dangerous - business in Europe. At least 173 people drowned last year while attempting to cross from Albania to Italy.

Illegal immigrants are said to be willing to pay as much as $30,000 each to be smuggled into Britain.

In its effort to crack down on illegal immigrants, Britain recently implemented tighter regulations at ports, installing X-ray equipment to check trucks. Fines also were increased for people caught trying to smuggle illegal immigrants into the country.

Refugee advocates condemned the smuggling rings, but said the main problem was that it is virtually impossible for people fleeing persecution to enter Britain legally.

- From wire services

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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