Chinese Immigrants Describe a Harrowing Flight from Home

Jumping early Monday morning to his escape from a first-floor room where he and 24 other illegal Chinese immigrants were trapped for two days without food, a 35-year-old shoemaker from Hubei province says he did it to get back to his homeland.

Lying Tuesday on a wooden bed in a small detention room in Chamkar Mon district police station, the shoemaker’s injured legs are covered in bloody bandages.

“We tried escaping to get to the Chinese Em­bassy,” he says.

He claims he paid more than $13,000 to get to Italy from his home in southern China. How­ever, he instead found himself locked in a series of Phnom Penh houses eating two meals a day since August 1998.

“I borrowed money from my relatives to pay the organizer,” says the shoemaker, who asked not to be named, citing safety concerns. “I don’t know who they were. We were just given telephone numbers and a [Chinese] bank account to deposit the money in.”

The failed escape early Mon­day from a flat on Street 384 alerted district police and led to another mass arrest of Chinese nationals holding insufficient travel documents.

The arrest Aug 19 of 225 illegal immigrants found in a Tuol Kok district house thrust the issue of trafficking Chinese nationals for profit into the limelight. Never before had Cambodian authorities arrested so many foreigners who said they hoped to reach the West. A court hearing for the more than 200 Chinese was canceled Monday, several days after the Chinese Embassy formally requested that their nationals be allowed to be flown home.

Like the shoemaker, most of the group arrested Monday had spent more than a year in Cam­bodia as their guide worked on facilitating their passage to the West, according to another of the Chinese immigrants now de­tained in Chamkar Mon police station,

“The organizer promised there were legal procedures to get to other countries such as Italy or France,” said a 25-year-old tailor, also from Hubei.

The Chinese maintained they entered Cambodia from Vietnam. When they arrived at the Cam­bodian border they were met by an Chinese organizer, who later provided food and shelter for them.

“We came by bus through Vietnam. Then we climbed over some mountains to enter Cam­bodia where we met the organizer….Some of us entered Cam­bodia by car, some by boat,” a 20-year-old man said Tuesday.

“The boss failed to prepare the passports for us in time, that’s why we stayed so long in Cam­bodia,” he added.

The 20-year-old said that he did not know what type travel documents would be arranged for him. Other Chinese also were reluctant to say what passports they intended to use to leave Cambodia.

A senior Chinese diplomat Tuesday acknowledged the detained immigrants have broken the law by entering Cam­bodia without valid travel documents, but he pointed out the group arrested Monday is illustrative of the thousands that come across Cambodia’s border each year—mistreated and often exploited by those handling their passage.

“These Chinese people were cheated,” the diplomat said in an interview at his office. “They are victims.”

A top Cambodian police official Monday described the arrested Chinese as vulnerable.

“They are only seeking a better life, economic opportunities,” said the police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Both the Chinese diplomat and the police official said the masterminds behind the apparently systematic network must be found, arrested and prosecuted.

Details obtained Tuesday from those arrested in Chamkar Mon district not only paint a harrowing picture of the plight of those Chinese being trafficked, but also of a murder early Sunday that apparently led to the failed escape bid of the shoemaker and three other detainees roughly 24 hours later.

They maintain the facilitator of their passage—a Chinese man who allegedly had brought the 25 in small groups from the Vietnam border to Phnom Penh—was killed early Sunday.

“When the boss was murdered we were locked up in the room. We hadn’t eaten and we were frightened,” said the 35-year-old shoemaker.

Sim Vuthy, Chamkar Mon district deputy inspector, put it this way: “Hearing of the death of their leader, the four Chinese became frightened and decided to break a window and jump to the ground.”

Multiple police officials contacted Tuesday said a Chinese man was murdered Sunday night in Ang Snuol district, Kandal province but said they did not have details on the incident.

The Khmer-language newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) identified the victim as Shi Zhen Shing, 33. The paper reported he was stabbed to death in a quarry by a Chinese-speaking man who later escaped by car.

According to Rasmei Kampu­chea (Light of Kampuchea), a 27-year-old Chinese man driving a Ministry of Interior registered car was arrested for the murder later Sunday morning.

Tom Vai, deputy chief of Kandal Judicial police, said Tuesday a Chinese national was arrested on Route 2 for his suspected part in the murder. The suspect had been moved to the Ministry of Interior, Tom Vai said.

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