People smuggling

A serious issue in an unstable region

Investigations undertaken by the AFP have become increasingly complex and diverse over its 20 year history, and indications are that this trend will continue as we take on the challenges facing a national law enforcement agency in a world whose borders have become more porous.

Issues such as transnational crime, the trafficking in humans, serious fraud and corruption are now recognised as being of such gravity that they affect regional security and stability.

Transnational crime, says is a major problem with serious social and humanitarian implications; whereas the trafficking in humans is a social and humanitarian problem with serious transnational criminal involvement.

During the past year, countries in Australia's immediate region, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru and New Zealand have all been affected by the trafficking in humans from Fujian Province in China.

In the central Pacific, Palau and the Republic of the Northern Mariana Islands are seen as possible gateways to the USA. Not only do many of the people involved face inhuman and dangerous conditions en route, but on arrival at their destination, they may be forced into crime to pay off the cost of their travel.

In the following article, Mr McFarlane focuses on the trafficking in humans, concluding that the level of threat will increase over the next decade to become a major global problem. To limit the dangers posed by these issues, serious efforts should be made to achieve a greater level of understanding of these threats and a global commitment to combat them, together with increased exchange of information, criminal intelligence and data on countermeasures, he says.

The United Nations and its various agencies, together with other international agencies and arrangements, are making a major contribution to combating these threats to global and regional security, Mr McFarlane says.

John McFarlane, Special Adviser in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, is the AFP Fellow at the Australian Defence Studies Centre, and Australian Co-Chair of the Working Group on Transnational Crime established by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP).

This article is part of a longer paper Mr McFarlane presented at the Fifth United Nations Symposium on Northeast Asian Security in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, recently.

The symposium was attended by government officials, diplomats and senior academics from Australia, China, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, South Korea, Russia, Thailand and the USA. Mr McFarlane also was part of an Australian police and academic delegation which visited China, including Fujian Province, late last year at the invitation of the Chinese Institute of Public Security.

The full version of his paper has been published by the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre as SDSC Working Paper No. WP.335.

John McFarlane

Author's note:

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Government. It is not possible to deal here with illegal immigration in depth, but the subject is considered in context, with comments on the nature and extent of the problem, together with some indications of its future development and suggestions on how to minimise the criminality associated with illegal immigration. To limit the dangers posed by these issues serious efforts should be made to achieve a greater level of understanding of these threats and a global commitment to combat them, together with increased exchange of information, criminal intelligence and data on successful countermeasures.

The AFP was part of a joint operation with Customs, NSW Police and the Defence forces in May this year which culminated in the arrest in Sydney of four Chinese men and the detection of 69 illegal immigrants from China who had travelled aboard an 85-metre coastal freighter, The Kayuen. The vessel was identified during its journey to Australia after a month-long investigation centring on the four Chinese men who had earlier aroused the suspicion of Customs officers when they arrived at Sydney Airport from Hong Kong.

The Kayuen was intercepted off the NSW south coast near Port Kembla and after an extensive search her ‘human cargo' was found hiding in false ‘fire box' compartments below decks. The freighter is photographed here docked at Sydney's Garden Island after it was seized in the operation.

It is only over the last decade that the terms ‘illegal immigration', ‘human smuggling' and ‘alien smuggling' have attracted the serious attention of political and criminal analysts.1 It was not mentioned in Ko-lin Chin's seminal work Chinese Subculture and Criminality [Chin, 1990], nor was it mentioned in the major textbooks on organised crime published in the early 1990s [Abadinsky, 1994; Ryan, 1995]. The problem was not mentioned in Toffler's Future Shock (1970) or War and Anti-War (1995), although it was touched on in Kenneain international migration. If a country is sufficiently well-off, the costs and risks of migrating are usually outweighed by staying at home. It is in the middle range, when a country is emerging from extreme poverty, building its infrastructure, and accumulating savings, but before the majority of its population has achieved a stable and comfortable standard of living, that international migration has generally surged. There are now about two billion people in Asia fast approaching that ‘middle range' that has often been marked by substantial international migration.

Political uncertainty and turmoil can encourage international migration, directly to escape prosecution, danger and violence. It can also spur it indirectly, as internal uncertainty raises the risks associated with internal migration and loss of central government control increases the ease of slipping past international borders. Political change, ranging from weakening of the government to overt political violence, can thus exacerbate international migration.

Goldstone [1997: 54 – 55] considers that the following economic and social conditions contribute to an accelerating trend in international migration:

  • Large-scale displacement of labour from secure local economic roles (most commonly small farmers) as a consequence of economic development.
  • National policies of land use, pricing, and land reclamation that disfavour small farmers, increasing the necessity for farming households to seek other livelihoods.
  • Infrastructure development that lowers the cost of travel and communication with potential migration sites abroad.
  • Increasing international economic integration that facilitates labour migration as part of patterns of international economic activity.
  • Large income differentials between international migration sites (local towns and farther cities) that make international migration an attractive strategy as an alternative or complement to internal migration.
  • Established networks of migrants that facilitate job-finding and settlement transactions (raising expected benefits and lowering risks) for migrants.
  • Political policies in sourcedy's Preparing for the Twenty-First Century (1993). 

Although Chinese migrant trafficking is large in scale, it is only one fraction of the overall global trade in humans. Around the world, smuggling organisations ranging in size and degree of sophistication are smuggling tens of thousands of people from poorer to richer countries. In the process, they are earning at least $US7 billion per year, with the potential for even greater future profits

- Paul J. Smith [1997: 8 – 9]

Motivation for migration

Goldstone [1997: 48 – 9] has pointed out that international migration does not generally flow from countries that are either too poor or too well-off. If a country is too poor, the bulk of its citizens will be too engrossed in scraping together a living, too ignorant of other opportunities, and too far removed from transportation and communications networks, that initiate, facilitate and sust and receiving countries that minimise the cost of migration and increase the possible rewards (e.g. allowing travel abroad in source countries, and allowing settlement, work, and eventual citizenship in receiving countries.

Williams and Savona (1995: 22)2 regarded alien smuggling as a serious development in transnational crime, involving possibly as many as one million people a year, of which only about 20 per cent were people from China. The other countries involved included India, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Romania, Sri Lanka and the Sudan.

At the state level, the main problems arising from this activity include the threat to national sovereignty of the recipient countries; the additional costs in terms of medical care, food, housing and transportation for the illegal immigrants; medical and quarantine threats associated with the uncontrolled illicit transnational movement of people; and the possibility that such movements can also lead to a major backlash against legal immigrants and legitimate refugees.

At the individual level, illegal immigration can lead to the deprivation and indignity of the illegal immigrants; the vulnerability — particularly of women and children — to being forced into sexual slavery or other forms of criminality; and the difficulties faced by the people in paying off their debts to those organising the smuggling operation. Alien smuggling may also be associated with other forms of serious criminality, such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, counterfeit documentation, money laundering and even the trafficking in body parts.

Illegal immigration from China

The state with the greatest capacity to affect the future volume and direction of unregulated population flows in East Asia is China, due to its size and population, and because this fledgling Asian super-power has only recently become a significant source of illegal immigration for the region. China has land and sea borders with more than half the countries of East Asia, and a large and growing pool of unemployed, a significant percentage of whom will be prepared to risk the hazards and costs of clandestine emigration if Beijing cannot offer them a reasonable prospect of employment, or a substitute for the ‘iron rice bowl'. A worse case scenario, and one which virtually all China's neighbours fear, is the possibility of a large-scale flight of people from China in the event of major political instability or civil strife.

– Alan Dupont [1999: 22]

As undocumented arrivals from China appear to be the current illegal immigration issue of most concern to countries in the Asia-Pacific, this paper concentrates on this area. However, there are well-established illegal immigration and labour networks from many other countries, including several in Asia, with the potential for these to expand substantially over the next decade.

There are many factors encouraging illegal immigration from China [Goldstone, 1997; Zheng, 1996; Hood, 1997; McFarlane, 1998b], but among the more important are:

Historical factors

The tradition of overseas migration from China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong Provinces, to Southeast Asia, the USA and Australia3.

The entrepreneurialism and adventurism of Chinese expatriates (particularly from Fujian Province) to support their families by becoming successful businessmen overseas.

Immigrants who have settled successfully overseas encouraging family members to emulate their success.

Economic factors

Underemployment, low wages, lack of opportunities, crushing debt, and business failure.

Inadequate resources available in Fujian and Guangdong Provinces to enable local people to support the traditional occupations of farming and fishing.

It is estimated that there is currently a ‘floating population' (liudong renkou) in China of some 100 million people as a result of the social and economic changes so far introduced. With decreased rural4 and provincial employment opportunities and a scaling back of the state owned enterprises, by 2005 there could be as many as 300 – 400 million people facing unemployment or underemployment, many of whom will join the ‘floating population'.5 With the gaps between urban and rural incomes, as well as the differences between incomes in different regions, and the disparity between incomes in China and in the recipient countries, the incentive for moving overseas may become very strong.

As a result of China's booming economy, inflation, and other social problems (including corruption), young people who are not so well educated have little chance to maintain themselves in employment. They tend to believe the propaganda of the people smugglers that employment opportunities and living standards are better overseas.

Sociological factors

As liberalisation has spread in China, the regulatory and integrative functions of many social institutions have been undermined, resulting in people finding themselves in a situation where new opportunities exist because of the breakdown of some of the elements of social control.

The erosion of the welfare state.

Border controls are much less stringent because police and customs officers have been diverted into investigating the smuggling of cigarettes, firearms, drugs, electronic goods and cultural antiquities.

The promotion of privatisation has enabled local people to purchase and use private boats more freely.

One unfortunate by-product of the recent economic and political changes in China has been the growing incidence of corruption and the emergence of criminal syndicates that have links with criminal organisations in Taiwan6, Hong Kong, Macao and the overseas Chinese communities.

Fujian is well developed economically and enjoys a relatively high standard of living. Many Fujianese people living overseas maintain close links with their relatives in China, and about 50,000 Fujianese travel abroad each year for holidays, study or business.

Situational factors

The asylum policies and legal systems of recipient countries, opening up the possibility of legal foreign residence. For example, permissive residence based on the post-Tiananmen situation or opposition to China's one child per family policy.

The cessation of Taiwanese drift netting has encouraged some Taiwanese former fishermen to become involved in the illegal immigration business.

The perceived need for Chinese businessmen in recipient countries to find cheap sources of labour in order to maintain their profitability in an increasingly competitive business environment.

Fujian and Guangdong Provinces have very long coastlines which are difficult to police.

Illegal immigration and criminality

The migrant, wishing to leave China by clandestine means, has three basic requirements:

Money – usually provided by relatives in China or abroad.

Transportation – provided by criminal enterprises.

Guanxi (a dyadic relationship outside the family involving connections and networking) — cultivated through assiduous networking and some good luck.

Economic strategy governs the order and progression of Chinese migration, but the bonds derived from qinshu (kinship) and guanxi determine its extent [Myers, 1995: 1 – 36 and 1997: 100]. While it may be unlawful for a migrant to depart China clandestinely, and to enter another country without the appropriate authorisation, the major criminality involved in illegal immigration operations involves:

The provision of documentation (where appropriate) to assist the migrant to enter the recipient country.

The means of transportation (by land, air or sea) to enable the migrant to travel safely to the recipient country.

The exploitation of the migrant by criminal syndicates while he/she is working off the debt incurred (bao) from his/her transportation to the recipient country [Hood, 1997: 90].

Illegal immigration methodology

There are strong regulations in place for Chinese citizens exiting or entering the country, and although it is not hard for Chinese citizens to obtain a passport for overseas travel, it is difficult for them to get visas to travel to countries such as the USA and Australia. For this reason, there is a healthy trade in counterfeit documents, including passports and visas. These documents are usually produced by overseas Chinese criminal organisations. The Chinese Government will soon introduce new passports with laser photographs to make counterfeiting documents more difficult. Illegal immigrants are known as ren she (literally ‘human snake'). The people organising the smuggling operation are known as shetou (or ‘snake head').7

In a 1996 paper, Zheng provided a valuable analysis of illegal immigration into the USA from Fujian and Guangdong Provinces in China, which he claimed started in ‘the early 1980s'. Zheng noted that although ‘the vast majority' of illegal Chinese immigrants were still entering the USA by air, in 1991 the use of Taiwanese ocean-going ships and fishing vessels began to be observed, moving about 150 persons at a time, at a cost of about US$30,000 per head.8 The advantages of this approach included lower overheads, higher profits and easier logistics.

Zheng (1996:51) points out that the smuggling operation involves five steps: recruiting, escaping, smuggling voyage, offloading, and debt collection.

The recruiting phase is accomplished largely through informal networks. Snakeheads advertise their services by word of mouth or as labour recruiters for (often non-existent) Hong Kong or Taiwan-based companies offering well-paid jobs overseas. This approach is often successful because the potential immigrants have unrealistic expectations about their prospects overseas and are gullible. Indeed, some illegal immigrants who have succeeded in obtaining employment overseas, not wishing to lose face, write back glowing letters to their relatives in China, giving a totally unrealistic account of their experiences in their adopted country.

As very few Chinese can afford the charges demanded by the snakeheads, it is common practice for a contract (renqing) to be signed, allowing for a down payment of, say, 10 per cent to be paid up front, with the balance to be paid on arrival by relatives, who have co-signed as financial sponsors. A second type of contract is a labour contract where the individual signs a contract with a restaurant or sweat shop owner overseas, agreeing to work for that owner for, say, five years in exchange for the total smuggling fee being paid by the owner. The third type of contract involves the immigrant borrowing money from a tourist company or an individual broker, through his or her relatives overseas, and then paying the debt with interest in the years following arrival.

As it is illegal for Chinese citizens to leave the country freely, the escaping phase involves the immigrant overcoming the problem of eluding China's border patrols, either by land or at sea. Escaping by land, typically involving a group of six to 10 people is the most expensive. In this case the immigrants pose as a tourist or business group travelling in the southern provinces, such as Guangxi or Yunan, before crossing into Burma or Thailand, usually at night and on foot or horseback. Once in Thailand,9 they are schooled on what to say if they are caught, and the immigration procedures in the receiving country. These groups are very vulnerable, not only to police action, but also to predatory robbers. For this reason, the alien smugglers often engage local criminal groups (including drug trafficking groups) to assist the transit of the travellers.

Escape by sea is much easier and cheaper. In this case the illegal immigrants are ferried from the coastline to international waters, and then transferred at sea to the smuggling vessel. Alternatively, they could be ferried to some sparsely populated island to await the arrival of the smuggling ship. Finally, some snakeheads embark the immigrants directly on Taiwanese or Hong Kong ocean-going ships, fishing vessels, coastal junks or cargo boats which have legitimate access to Fujian or Guangzhou ports. The bribery of local police, customs officers or members of the military may be used to facilitate escape by either land or sea, however it is difficult to gauge the extent of such corruption. Alien smuggling is not a crime in most Asian, African and Central American countries.10 It is reasonable to assume, based on recent cases, that generally similar arrangements are made for alien smuggling voyages to Australia. The routes most favoured involve landing on the Australian western or north-western coastline; or to the northeastern or eastern coastline, through the Torres Strait route, or around eastern Papua New Guinea into the Coral Sea.

To reduce the risk of apprehension when offloading, the smuggling vessels usually avoid entering territorial waters. They rely on smaller boats to ferry the passengers ashore. In the United States this is often undertaken using ferries or yachts owned by Vietnamese-Americans11 who are contracted to do this task, at about US$1000 per head. This price reflects the risk taken in such an operation. Where a debt is still owed by an illegal immigrant, he or she may be picked up by local Asian gangs and taken to a ‘safe house' so that control over the immigrant is obtained until his/her debt is discharged. Otherwise, the immigrant is released into the community.

In relation to debt collection, Zheng (1996: 56 – 57) believes that a significant number of illegal immigrants (possibly between one-fifth to one-third) do not have relatives to pay the fee to the local Asian gangs on arrival.12 Consequently, the illegal immigrant is forced to stay in a ‘safe house', where they are virtually prisoners, and may even be handcuffed for long periods of time. Gang members often use torture, beating and rape to intimidate their captives until the debt is paid. If the debt payment by relatives is late, an interest charge of 10 to 20 per cent per week may be levied. As a result, such illegal immigrants are forced to work for the gangs who control them, either by entering into another contract to work in laundries, sweat shops or restaurants for an extremely low wage, or he/she may be forced to become involved in drug trafficking, prostitution or other gang related activities.

To discourage the immigrants from escaping, they are told that if captured by the police they will be imprisoned for many years as illegal immigrants; and if recaptured by their gang masters, they will be severely punished. It is almost impossible for the individual illegal to repay the 200,000 RMB (about $A37,000) required without becoming involved in crime in the country of destination [McFarlane: 1998b: 15]. In spite of these difficulties, most illegal immigrants are still able to remit some of their earnings back to their families in China.

Local Asian gangs are used to control the incoming illegal immigrants for two reasons. First, the smuggling groups in Hong Kong or Taiwan generally do not have the ability or local knowledge to function effectively overseas. Second, local Asian gangs have often invested heavily in setting up the smuggling operation through buying and refitting the ship, hiring the crew, and meeting the transit costs, so they are able to operate as debt collectors and share in the huge profits generated.

There is insufficient evidence available to make firm judgements about debt collection methods in Australia, but from what is known, it is reasonable to assume that similar practices may well be carried out in this country. There is evidence in Sydney of kidnapping for extortion and murders of illegal immigrants and/or English language students who have fallen behind in their payments to snakeheads or extortionists. Some of these murders have been ritual stabbings and have caused considerable disquiet within the Chinese community. The murders have not necessarily been reported to the police. Occasionally, due to their lack of knowledge of Chinese culture, the police have inadvertently enhanced the power of the snakeheads or extortionists by dealing with them publicly [McFarlane, 1998b:6].

It is interesting to note that Zhang and Gaylord [1996:14] have found that communication breakdowns, rather than effective law enforcement, are the major reason why smuggling operations fail. The high value placed on dyadic relationships and secrecy means that the success of the entire operation depends, as in a chain reaction, on faithful performance at each stage.

Ports of departure from China

Given that the majority of Chinese illegal immigrants probably still arrive in recipient countries by air from Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei or Bangkok, the Chinese locations which appear to be of significance in relation to maritime departures are: Beihai in Guangxi Province – the major point of exit for Sino-Vietnamese illegal immigrants travelling to Southeast Asia and Australia; Fuqing in Fujian Province – a point of exit for Fujianese illegal immigrants travelling to Japan13; Fuzhou in Fujian Province – the major point of exit for Fujianese illegal immigrants travelling to the USA and, recently, Australia; Pingtao Island in Zhejiang Province – a point of exit for illegal immigrants travelling to Taiwan; Taishan in Guangdong Province – a traditional source of illegal immigrants from Guangdong Province moving to Hong Kong and overseas; Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province – the major source of illegal immigrants travelling to Western Europe.

Dealing with illegal immigration

Illegal immigration is a particularly sensitive and difficult problem for both the source and recipient countries. It is an issue that involves quite fundamental issues of sovereignty, politics, diplomacy, morality, health and humanitarianism. However, regardless of the reason why people clandestinely leave their native country to seek opportunities elsewhere, the fact is that criminal syndicates are quite ruthlessly exploiting this issue to serve their own interests. It is highly desirable, therefore, that whenever possible, there should be open communications between the source and receiving countries on how to best deal with this human security problem. This is also another area where the United Nations and its various agencies and other inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations can make a significant contribution.

At the practical level, the following strategies could be considered:

The immigration and labour authorities in recipient countries should conduct more routine inspections of work sites at small businesses in Chinatowns suspected of hiring undocumented workers (Zheng: 1996: 62).

The immigration and labour authorities in recipient countries should increase the fines for employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers; and sanctions should also be available to use against any person who provides assistance of any kind (ranging from lending money to providing dwellings) to smuggling of illegal immigrants (Zheng: 1966: 63).

The immigration and law enforcement authorities in recipient countries should publicise the realities of illegal immigration, particularly in the form of a TV campaign aired in the coastal areas of China (Zheng: 1996: 63).

Adequate reception facilities should be made available to house the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants while their cases are being considered by the courts.

Court hearings of illegal immigration cases should be expedited, so that those who are to be returned to China are quickly repatriated, thereby sending a powerful message to other potential immigrants.

As illegal immigration is a transnational crime, international cooperation among law enforcement agencies should be sought to counter the problem.

As some of the organisers of illegal immigration operations are also involved in drug trafficking and other forms of criminality, the law enforcement response to this activity should not overlook the possibility of related criminal activity.

Effective counter-measures to illegal immigration (regardless of the source country) require close national and international inter-agency cooperation, intelligence sharing, surveillance, document examination, the targeting of snakeheads and other principals involved, and training in cultural awareness and the geo-political issues in illegal immigration cases.

Although it would be fair to say that not all illegal immigration cases, at least by sea, involve criminal activities, a systematic approach should be taken to collating information on issues such as the vessel's description, origin, registration details and condition; crew and passenger profiles, including security personnel; where and how crews were recruited; the route transited, including transit stops, fuel and provisioning arrangements; the identities of source country organisers and recipient country facilitators; the development of operational profiles, warnings and indicators, and prediction of future activities.

Finding solutions

Illegal immigration is a problem of increasing global importance. Each year some four million people attempt to enter other countries illegally. The criminal syndicates exploiting this issue are assessed as earning at least $US 7 billion for their efforts and the penalties for such activities are much lighter than, say, those applicable for drug or firearms trafficking. It is likely that illegal immigration operations are frequently run in parallel with other criminal operations, such as drug or firearms smuggling, sex slavery, money laundering, and so on. This is a serious international humanitarian and criminal problem, requiring a coordinated national and international response.

Although only a relatively small proportion of the overall illegal immigration traffic originates in China, from the Asia-Pacific and Northeast Asian viewpoints, this is probably the greatest source of current concern, not only for its present dimension, but also because there is a strong possibility that the traffic could increase substantially over the next decade. Apart from the humanitarian and sovereignty issues, there is also the problem of illegal immigrants becoming cheap labour for local crime syndicates. There is also the possibility that, given a similar set of circumstances to that now evident in China, other Asian countries, such as India and Indonesia, could also become significant illegal immigration source countries in the years ahead.

Illegal immigration from China has become a serious problem for the law enforcement and immigration authorities in the recipient countries. Of particular concern is the influence of criminal organisation both in China and overseas in illegal immigration operations and the pressure put on individual illegal immigrants to become involved in criminal activities in order to pay off the debt to the people smugglers and local Asian organised crime gangs. However, the Chinese Government has expended considerable effort to limit the problem. Furthermore, illegal immigration is by no means restricted to people from China.

The trends that have become evident through analysis of the criminality associated with illegal immigration from China are, to a greater or lesser degree, present in illegal immigration from many other countries. This is a major human security problem that calls for firm, but sensitive responses both from source and recipient countries. Dialogue between source and recipient countries on this problem should be given a high priority and every effort should be made to devise and support international initiatives to minimise the human suffering and criminalisation of this activity.


  1. The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and the related Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967 outlines international law in relation to refugee matters, as distinct from illegal immigrants. [Evans, 1996: 73 – 85]
  2. Williams and Savona's report was based on discussions at the World Ministerial Conference on Organized Transnational Crime, held in Naples, Italy, between 21 – 23 November 1994. This Conference brought together Ministers of Justice and Ministers of the Interior from 142 states. The conference concluded with the Naples Political Declaration and Global Plan of Action Against Organized Transnational Crime, which was subsequently submitted for implementation by the Secretary-General of the United Nations [General Assembly Resolution 49/150 refers].
  3. There has been a worldwide expansion of Chinese migration over the past four decades. From an overseas Chinese population of some 12 million in the 1950s, there are now about 35 million, two-thirds of which are in Southeast Asia, but their numbers have increased most rapidly in North America and Australia. Zhang and Gaylord [1996;1] state that estimates of the number of Chinese annually smuggled into the U.S. vary, but officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) put the current figure at around 100,000.
  4. It is estimated that by 2005, 270 million people could be removed from China's agricultural labour force without affecting production. [Laurence J.C. Ma and Chusheng Lin: ‘Development of Towns in China: A Case Study of Guangdong Province' in Population and Development Review, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1993, p. 586; also the Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report: China, 21 May 1996].
  5. In an attempt to arrest the population drift to the main cities and the difficulty of maintaining the household registration scheme, officials have razed squatter settlements and imposed "registration" fees ($US 11,600 in Beijing) on migrants seeking permission to reside and work in those cities. [Rajiv Chandra: "China: Rural Migrants No Longer Welcome in Overcrowded Cities", Inter Press Service, 10 April 1996].
  6. Taiwanese criminal syndicates fulfil a critical role in relation to illegal immigration, particularly from Fujian Province. They have well-established international links which have long been used for drug trafficking and smuggling. As Myers notes [1997: 108], networks created by guanxi between Taiwanese and Fujianese shetou have made access to illicit transportation easier, and guanxi wove globally distributed specialist entrepreneurs into highly flexible networks to form the smuggling industry. At this stage, Taiwan has not enacted any laws to outlaw migrant smuggling.
  7. Whereas law enforcement officers regard the shetou as criminals, to many potential migrants they would be considered as businessmen or facilitators.
  8. Li Ling, an official with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stated in 1997 that Chinese illegal immigrants are now charged $US 35,000 for the journey to the United States [Li, 1997: 39]. Chinese boat people coming to Australia are reported to be charged about $A 26,000 (approximately $US 15,000) each [Penelope Green: "Boat people stung for $26,000 each" in The Australian, 5 May 1999, p. 3]. For further details of illegal immigration to Australia see the (Australian) Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Fact Sheet No. 81.
  9. Fujianese criminals are not significantly involved in illegal immigration cases transiting the Golden Triangle and Thailand. Generally, Chinese Muslims from Chiang Mai handle such cases, with illegals posing as tourists and use being made of false passports obtained in Thailand.
  10. According to Myers [1997: 117 – 118] more than 43 countries (play) a transit role in airborne and seaborne smuggling (of Chinese illegal immigrants). Some, like the Philippines, with large Fujianese and influential Taiwanese populations, played major roles. Others, like Palau, whose economy is dominated by Taiwanese, (play) minor roles. Cambodia is now playing an increasingly important role in this area.
  11. Vietnamese criminals have also come to notice in Chinese illegal immigration cases involving Australia, both at the transportation and debt collecting phases.
  12. To avoid the risk of detection by local law enforcement agencies, debts are frequently settled in Hong Kong or China.
  13. Myers [1997: 96] has observed that there is a ‘partnership" between Fujianese shetou and the Japanese yakuza supporting Fujianese illegal immigration into Japan.


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Zheng Wang (1996): "Ocean-going Smuggling of Illegal Chinese Immigrants: Operation, Causation and Policy Implications" in Transnational Organized Crime, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1996.


An Asia-Pacific Working Group on Transnational Crime was established in 1997 under the aegis of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP), a second track or unofficial ‘think tank' supporting the ASEAN Regional Forum. CSCAP members include Australia, Canada, Peoples' Republic of China, European Union, Indonesia, India (Associate Member), Japan, Republic of Korea (South Korea) Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (North Korea), Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States of America.

Three essential themes were involved in the establishment of CSCAP. The first was that the Council should be a non-governmental institution but should involve government officials, albeit in their private capacities, to allow for relatively free discussion of diplomatically sensitive issues which otherwise could not be raised in official forums, such as the ARF. The second was to encourage regional cooperation, mainly through the dissemination of ideas and the resulting discussions, while the third was the acceptance of the need to build on extant arrangements in the region wherever possible rather than construct new structures and processes.

To this end, five CSCAP working groups have been established, each dealing with a specific area of regional security sensitivity. Further details of CSCAP and its working groups are available on the CSCAP Website at The CSCAP Working Group on Transnational Crime is co-chaired by the Philippines, Thailand and Australia. Membership of the Working Group comprises people with a wide variety of experience in law enforcement, criminology, sociology, diplomacy, political science, strategic analysis and the military.

The Group recently published its first volume of papers titled Transnational Crime and Regional Security in the Asia Pacific, which contains 11 papers covering themes including: An Overview of Transnational Crime; Transnational Crime and Efforts Towards Prevention; Money Laundering; Terrorism; Illegal Immigration; and Technology Crime. Copies of the book are available from John McFarlane Phone (02) 6268 6275, fax (02) 6268 8440 or email [email protected] for $25 each plus postage.

The 6th meeting of the CSCAP Working Group on Transnational Crime will be held in Wollongong from November 6-9. Its two main themes will be Maritime Crime (in a joint meeting with the CSCAP Working Group on Maritime Cooperation) and Human Smuggling, including the trafficking in women and children.