In a few weeks time, the Morecambe Victims Fund will hold a sponsored walk for the families of the victims of the Morecambe Bay tragedy.
To mark the sixth anniversary of the tragic event in which twenty-three Chinese migrant workers drowned while picking cockles, the Morecambe Victims Fund will hold a sponsored walk, from Liverpool to Morecambe Bay, with the aim of raising £100,000 for the families of the victims. The walk will take place on 6-7 February 2010.
The twenty-three undocumented workers, mostly from the Fujian province of China, were caught in a rising tide on the night of 5 February 2004. The rescue and emergency services only managed to rescue one of the workers; the bodies of twenty-one men and women were found over the next two days. Two bodies were never found.
While the events of that day temporarily made headlines across Britain, the Morecambe Victims Fund has continued to work since 2006, to remember the lives of those who died and to raise money for the families of the victims in Fujian. Huge debts, sometimes up to £20,000, have been inherited by the families of the victims, who had initially borrowed £15,000 to £20,000 from money lenders in order to pay the smugglers’ fee to get into the UK. The twenty-two families of the victims have continued to struggle with the debt, which threatens their very livelihood. Eleven of the thirty-six children amongst these families have dropped out of school in order to work and support their families.
The Fund has received significant support from public donations which has gone towards relieving some of the burden of the debt, as well as covering some living expenses, medical, and school costs. However, after a recent visit to sixteen of the families in Fujian, it has become clear to the Fund organisers that far more help is needed, as the majority of the families have managed to pay off only a third of their total debt, leaving them with around £13,000 of debt each. Public assistance is all the more important given that any official financial support from the UK government is increasingly unlikely; the families applied for compensation from Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and waited for a decision for years until their application was rejected in December 2008, as was their appeal in autumn 2009.
The Morecambe Victims Fund was established by British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield, whose film about the tragedy, Ghosts (2006), was widely acclaimed, and journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai. The Fund has no administration costs, ensuring that all donations go directly to the families.
Hsiao-Hung Pai told IRR News: ‘In the years following the Morecambe Bay tragedy, the same conditions that led to workers’ deaths have continued to be the common day-to-day experience of tens of thousands of migrant workers in Britain. Migrant workers are still subjected to extreme exploitation in the underground world of recruitment and casual employment. Instead of enforcing labour protection legislation, the government has focused on cracking down on “illegal working”. This has led to deteriorating working conditions for this most vulnerable group of migrant workers. To avoid the same tragedy like Morecambe Bay from happening again, we call for the protection of vulnerable workers. We call for undocumented migrant workers to be given the opportunity to live and work in the open.’
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