Wed, Feb 21, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Smuggling of US-bound Chinese growing in Peru

PARADISE LOST People-trafficking in the South American country follows a tradition of emigration to the US, but the dangers involved are increasing


Thousands of Chinese immigrants are pouring into Peru every year, lured by mafia promises of quick passage to the US.

But the American dreams of these young economic migrants often end in extortion, violence or abandonment on the side of the road or on a deserted beach.

This was the fate of 74 Chinese migrants sent back to Peru by Costa Rican authorities in October after being rescued from a boat that had been drifting for weeks and was about to sink into the Pacific Ocean.

Another 54 were found abandoned without food or documents in a cove near Talara in northern Peru last month after they were promised passage to the US through Central America.

According to the country's office of immigration, DIGEMIN, some 8,778 Chinese nationals entered the country legally last year, of which only 733 were then legally allowed to leave for the US.

"Most Chinese are legally entering the country on a [tourist] visa, and they mainly come from southern China," DIGEMIN director Diomedes Diaz said. "These people come here tricked by organizations with international links into thinking that paradise awaits them in the United States."

For these high-risk journeys, "the family or the mafia loans them the money," said Isabelle Lausent-Herrera, a researcher who specializes in Asian migration in Peru at the National Center for Scientific Research.

The migrants risk more than deportation. They often offer up family members who have remained behind in China as collateral, sell all their belongings or promise to work for years to repay their debts.

"They borrow from [Chinese] banks which specialize in this type of trafficking and have links to the mafia who ensure that those who don't repay in time are punished," Lausent-Herrera said.

In recent years, 43 percent of illegal Chinese migrants have come from Fujian Province, while a large portion also come from Guangdong Province.

"Ultimately, the Chinese are following the same path as was taken in the 19th century to enter the United States where they pass through Peru," Lausent-Herrera said.

Those wealthy enough to pay up to US$70,000 for transport, false documents and lodgings can secure a comfortable air passage from Peru to the US.

Typical migrants, however, usually pay US$15,000 to US$20,000 to find temporary work in Peruvian grocery stores, Chinese restaurants or casinos and risk violence, extortion, starvation and sickness on more dangerous land or sea routes.

While in Peru they blend easily into a Chinese community founded in the 19th century to harvest guano and which is now several hundred thousand people strong.

But Peruvian police say they are now overwhelmed with at least a dozen gangs shuttling illegal immigrants through their borders.

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