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Migrant worker deaths stun British Catholics

As the bishops issued a statement critical of Government policy, London's Chinese Catholic community prayed on Monday for the 19 migrant workers who drowned picking shellfish in Morecambe Bay on Thursday.

The cockle gatherers died after being caught by a fast-rising tide on an English beach, prompting charges of exploited migrant labour. Residents complain numerous gangs of suspected illegal immigrants are brought in to Morecambe to work as cheap labor on the lucrative trade.

The Bishops of England and Wales said the tragedy raises fundamental questions about whether or not the UK is providing enough protection to migrant workers who "contribute enormously" to its economy and its welfare.

"There are many gangmasters who act legally and responsibly, but recently, too many reports of abuses of health and safety, exploitation and criminal acts of intimidation by unscrupulous gangmasters have surfaced," they said.

Fr Eddie Woo, Catholic Chaplain to the Chinese community told Independent Cathoilc News: "We prayed for these people and their families and for all the illegal immigrants who are really being exploited by our own people."

Fr Woo appealed for legal protection for migrant workers. He said at present they were completely at the mercy of ruthless Snakehead gangs, who pay them a pittance and force them to live in appalling overcrowded conditions with little food or heating.

In June 2002, 58 Chinese immigrants were found dead in the back of a refrigerated container truck arriving by ferry at Dover.

Welfare organisations say the tragedy could happen again. While there is a shortage of workers of in Europe, weak employment and immigration laws are allowing thousands of migrants to enter the country illegally and work in slave conditions.

Last month, Australian opposition leader Mark Latham criticised the Prime Minister for failing to tackle the problem of illegal migrant workers in this country.

"This exploitation extends beyond individual employers to organised rackets," he said.

"It doesn't just undermine the number of job opportunities available to Australians but exploits overseas workers who are left without an avenue for complaint."

Chinese chaplain appeals for protection for migrant workers (Independent Catholic News 9/2/04)
Fifteen migrant cockle pickers, thought to be Chinese, have died in Morecambe Bay (Catholic Church in England & Wales 9/2/04)
Latham faces storm over ID card proposal (The West Australian 19/1/04)

Nineteen Migrant Cockle Pickers Die on British Beach (Reuters 6/2/04)

10 Feb 2004