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Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy: Video: How life has changed for Chinese immigrants

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They were seeking money and a better life, but above all else, freedom.

The Chinese immigrants who perished in Morecambe Bay 10 years ago were just a fraction of the people from the country who flee to the UK in search of a better life.

Chuhui Xu, 39, who lives in Morecambe, grew up in the poor province of Guangdong which borders the Fujian province, where most of the cockle picking victims came from.

Like the cocklers, he grew up in a world of poverty and came to the area in the hope of something better.

In China, his dad struggled by with a small business selling cigarettes while his mum grew vegetables. They both worked seven days a week to make ends meet.

Because they were from a farming village they were ‘allowed’ to have two children instead of one and Xui grew up with an older brother in a tiny brick terraced house.

Their only toys were a set of marbles.

There were no family holidays or trips to the cinema. Occasionally, the boys would go fishing.

Speaking through a translator above his takeaway in Brookhouse, near Caton, he says: “There was little freedom at the time, freedom of speech, freedom of what you wanted to do.

“My mum and dad wanted me to go to England. In China, you have to pay for schools and child care, and we barely had enough. We could just about afford two meals a day.” He started selling tiles in a small shop but was lured by the prospect of a “better life” in England.

It took him 12 months to obtain a work permit from the Chinese government but finally in 2002, he swapped the hot and sticky climate for the cold and rainy North West of England, accompanied by his young wife Kali and their baby girl.

After a brief spell in Manchester, he moved to Morecambe to take up work in a takeaway.

It was June 2004 – just after the cockling disaster.

He recalls: “It was very sad and I felt a lot of sympathy for the families left behind in China. It has had a lasting impact on Chinese people here.

“For some reason it seems to be difficult for people from Fujian province to obtain permits. I think many of them were desperate and maybe impatient to get abroad.”

Much of the publicity around the exploited cockle pickers focused on how their lives were in some ways worse than they were in China.

But Chuhui says he feels lucky because he has been able to build a better life for himself despite the odds.

The living space above his takeaway has toys and musical instruments for his two daughters Janet, 12, and Donna, 11 – a stark contrast to his own childhood.

They live in a four bedroomed semi-detached home in Lancaster Road, Morecambe, and own a car.

The family have been supported by the Lancaster and Morecambe Bay Chinese Community Association (LMBCCA) which was formed in the aftermath of the disaster to celebrate the Chinese community and promote their art and culture.

The association is on hand to lend support and advice to Chinese people in the area, and even provides a Chinese school for children and lessons for Chinese musical instruments.

He adds: “There is more support now than there was 10 years ago.

“That is a positive thing to some out of what happened.

“We are proud to celebrate our culture and show that some people are successful in bettering themselves.”

 

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