Title: Victims or heroes? Elucidating the Profile of Current Irregular Chinese Migrants in Belgium
Authors: Pang, Ching Lin #
Issue Date: 2006
Conference: International workshop 'Migrations between the East and the West: Normalizing the Periphery location:Xiamen, China date:2-5 April 2006
Abstract: Agency versus victimhood
In anthropology: main focus on migrants strategies, migrants life and migration project
In legal studies and criminology, emphasis is on victimhood
Desk research:
-academic articles
-government documents
-international reports, in particular the Hypocrates report on human trafficking: case study of Belgium
-police files and statistics
-court cases
-12 in-depth interviews with undocumented Chinese in Belgian detention centers
-leading figures in the Chinese community
-government officials and administrators
-employees of centers of victims of human trafficking
General background:
The current Chinese migration to Europe takes place in a restrictive immigration legal framework.
Three waves of Chinese migration:
-the bachelor migration in the mid-19th and beginning of the 20th century from Zhejiang (Thuno 1999) and Guangdong
-the post war migration from the former British crown colony of Hong Kong (Baker 1994; Parker 1998; Pieke 1998; Rijckschroeff 1998; Skeldon 1994; Watson 1975; Wubben 1986).
-Migration from the PRC within a restrictive immigration policy
Since 1974 an immigration stop for unskilled migrants in Belgium. The two legal entry channels for low skilled migrants with view of long term residence:
1) asylum
2) family reunification.
Regularisation on an ad hoc basis also provides a channel for obtaining residence and settlement rights. Legal entry for a short-term residence include: students, researchers and guest professors, skilled workers (earning minimal annual income of 33.082 euro), managers and CEOs of multinationals (earning minimal annual income of 55.193 euro), tourists and short-term business travelers.
Number of PRC Nationals in Belgium and other EU countries
Table 1: Chinese in Belgium
2002 2003 2004
Stock of Chinese nationals 4472 6011 6883
Tourists 4978 5687 6391
Students 921 809 724
Workers 89 100 111
Family reunification 193 293 176
Not representative of the presence of ethnic Chinese in Belgium.
The major bulk of the Chinese are naturalised
The second wave of Hong Kong Chinese were never registered as Chinese in the national statistics.
Conservative estimation of the Chinese: 25.000
Illegal Economic Immigration
Number migrants without valid documents estimated at 20 million (Migration News 3/2001).
Analysis border apprehension data collected in 11 European countries
Chinese constitute an important group

Lack of reliable data on exact number of undocumented Chinese migrants
Indirect ways of measuring the size of the intercepted undocumented Chinese
Different sets of administrative data:
-Interception of undocumented Chinese in the territory or at the border
-Detention and forced repatriation
-Social inspection
Regularisation campaign of 1999 the share of Chinese accounts for 1.8% of the total files and thus negligeable.
In total 624 files were introduced, of which 443 files (71%) received a positive decision and 160 files (25.6%) a negative advice, 21 files (3.4%) as without outcome. Once more these figures do not provide us much insight into the issue.
Year Number interceptions Number receiving the order to leave the country
2002 375 220
2003 639 354
Source: Aliens Office, Belgium
Border interceptions are indicative of transit migration to the UK
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 Totaal
Iran 368 616 714 940 2638
Iraq 405 249 1588 352 2594
India 82 159 257 687 1185
Turkey 392 1028 281 180 1881
China 572 217 73 196 1058
Source: Directorate of the roads
Incarceration in closed centres and effective expulsions
year Number incarcerated Chinese
Effective expulsions
2002 75 52
2003 132 82
2004 63
Source: Aliens Office
Social Inspection
Top 10 nationalities, employing illegal workers 2004
Nationaliteit Legal occupation
Illegal occupation Total % illegal occupation
181 75 256 29.3
151 23 174 13.2
Morocco 94 9 103 8.7
51 20 71 28.2
35 24 59 40.7
8 35 43 81.4
16 23 39 59.0
30 1 31 3.2
9 20 29 69
7 20 27 74.1

Source: Annual Report 2004 Comité Fédéral (2005)

Social Law Violations per Sector, 2004

Sector Dimona registr. Foreign worker Part time work residence other Total %
Chinese restaurants 62 37 28 11 166 16.3
Exotic restaurants 60 32 14 23 144 14.1
Night shops 34 21 10 25 110 10.8
Prostitution 50 10 29 2 106 9.1

Source: Annual Report 2004 Comité Fédéral (2005: 34)

SMUGGLING PROCESS: Trajectory and modus operandi

There are different routes for smuggled Chinese entering the Schengen area and arriving/transiting in Belgium. The following tables are based on data ofAliens Office, Minister of Interior for the period 2003-2004.

Description of the route Route 1: air&land routes
Modes of transport (size of the group, exact route, vehicle used, etc. -train/plane to Moscou+Eastern and Central European route
-flight to Turkey+over land via Greece
-flight to Morocco+over land via Spain
-in EU: in lorries toUK
-in EU: in lorries to UK
-safehouses in Belgium: up to 46 Chinese discovered; safehouses en route: up to 100 smuggled persons in one house
-lorries in direction of UK: 5 to 13 persons
-departures by train from belgium to UK (Eurostar): same mode operandi as flights from Belgium to UK

Description of route Route 2: Direct flights to EU-countries or flights from Belgium to UK
Modes of transport (size of the group, exact route, vehicle used, etc.) Flights arriving in Belgium:
-largest group: 14 persons (including 2 facilitators) (Japanese lookalikes)
-12 persons to Malta and Belgium (business visa)
-otherwise mostly 1 or 2, sometimes more, persons travelling together

Flights from Belgium to UK:
-small groups of 1 to 3 illegals and 1 facilitator
-since 2004 many departures from regional airports

Description of the route Route 3: Flights transiting in third countries
Modes of transport (size of the group, exact route, vehicle used, etc.) -via African countries (Ivory coast, Guinée, South Africa)
-via Central-American countries (Honduras) via Turkey, Jordan
-via Belgrado, former Yugoslavia
-mostly small groups

Description of transport (size fo the group, exact route, vehicel used, etc.) Route 4: Sea routes
Modes of transport (size of the group, exact route, vehicel used, etc.) -small boats and containership, departing from Vietnam arriving in Spain, France and Belgium

-isolated case

Personal narratives




Socio economic profiles

Life as an illegal



The current migration from China to Belgium and Europe is by no means a new phenomenon. The Chinese emigration is Europe already set off at the end of the 19th century. However the recent wave from China needs to be contextualised in the current era of transnationalism and globalisation (Ong and Nonini 1997). Since contemporary migration is best represented and understood as a configuration of different actors and processes in the countries of origin, transit and destination, attention is also paid to the European dimension. Migration is a powerful force in the imagination of the Chinese as an individual and as a community. Migration stands for a channel for improvement of the livelihood of the family. When Chinese migrants are intercepted, they do not loose heart. On the contrary interceptions and imprisonment are obstacles in the migration project and trajectory. It is a conscious act, in which the family as a group is involved. The migrants see themselves not as victims but as actors, who deliberatley opt for migration as an instrument of social mobility. For some family, it is a survival strategy, for others it means an accelerated means of gaining more respect in the country of origin

Among the Chinese newcomers, there is the ever-growing number of Chinese students and researchers. They will contribute to a more diversified image of the Chinese community in Europe. A similar trend is noticeable in business travel by Chinese. Those, who enter through family reunification, are at the current moment negligeable. The major bulk enters the country as illegal economic migrant. Generally these migrants rely on criminal networks for organising the journey. Given the restrictive immigration regime within the Schengen area, migrants travel in different steps, with stops in the newly emerged migration hubs such as Moscou, Prague, Kiev but also Istanbul and other major cities at the periphery, bordering 'Fortress Europe'.

Concerning the forecasts, there are few indications that the migration movement will dry up. On the contrary it is very likely that the current trend will be sustained if not accelerated as the direct result of economic growth, more access to information, etc. in China. Thus, the diversification of the Chinese in Europe will be continued and reinforced consisting of skilled as well as unskilled migrants. Even when the current immigration policies in Europe do not change, there will be still a growing number Chinese entering as illegal economic migrants, students and researchers, highly skilled workers and probably also family reunification with the economic expansion of China.


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Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre
# (joint) last author

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