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Algora Publishing - For Immigrants From the East, Europe Is Today's New World
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
For Immigrants From the East, Europe Is Today's New World
By Roger Cohen New York Times Service

DOVER, England - This was once a quiet port town famous above all for its white cliffs. It is now known for the corpses of 58 Chinese immigrants that lie, unclaimed and unnamed, in refrigerators normally used for meat shipments - and for the likes of Tara Mohammed roaming its streets.

Like the desperate Chinese travelers found dead here on June 19 in an airtight container, Mr. Mohammed, 22, entered Britain in June concealed in the rear of a truck. From his native town of Kirkuk in Iraq, he walked into Iran. From Iran into Turkey, five days on foot, moving at night. A 24-hour bus ride to Istanbul followed.

''Then I went to a parking place for trucks,'' said Mr. Mohammed.

''And I found this man and I told him, 'I want to go to Europa. Yes, anywhere in Europa.' And he said, 'O.K., no problem.''' After paying $4,000 in cash, changing trucks three times and traveling for 11 days, Mr. Mohammed reached Dover, where he requested asylum.

''Europa,'' the old continent, persistent source of hordes of migrants to the New World, has become the ersatz United States of modern asylum-seekers. Where just 30,000 people applied for asylum in the U.S. last year, down from 127,000 in 1993, more than 365,000 did so in the European Union.

This shift is troubling to a Europe that tends to see more problems than promise in alien blood. But its causes are not about to disappear. The collapse of the Soviet Union has opened up new land routes to Europe from Asia and turned once-closed cities like Moscow and Kiev into nodal points of migrant travel from Afghanistan and China.

Increasingly well-organized criminal groups trading in human freight - a less risky but scarcely less lucrative commodity than drugs - have emerged to coordinate smuggled passages into a Europe largely closed to legal immigration.

''The penalties are far less severe than for drugs, the up-front investment much smaller, and the evidence has legs and tends to run away,'' said Brunson McKinley, the director general of the International Organization for Migration.

Europe is also relatively inexpensive. Tan Wah Piow, a London lawyer close to the Chinese immigrant community, put the cost of being brought to Europe from China at $25,000, perhaps half the cost of transport to America.

''People have turned from the United States as it is more difficult to get into it,'' he said.

On his desk sits a fax from China. It shows a blurred photograph of a young man. His name is Lin Liguan. He weighs 136 pounds (62 kilograms). He was born on Nov. 30, 1979. He comes from China's southern Fujian Province and, a few months back, he departed for Europe.

The message pleads: ''Do you know where my son is? Could he be among the dead in Dover? Can you help us?''

Mr. Tan points angrily at the paper. ''It is good for China to join the World Trade Organization because we support the free movement of global capital,'' he said. ''But what about the free movement of labor?''

What indeed. Think of the anonymous Dover dead, piles of flesh unclaimed by any relative because those relatives may themselves be in Europe illegally and fear deportation.

The richest fifth of mankind earns 86 percent of the world's income, while the poorest fifth earns 1 percent. The riches are ever more visible through global communications; options for travel are ever greater; millions of sealed containers make an ever-growing exchange of goods even easier.

So an opulent Europe, even one with a high unemployment rate, still glimmers as a land of opportunity. More than 70 million migrants are thought to be on the move at any one time. And Europe looks accessible to them.

The European Union has now eliminated most internal borders, making Athens to Amsterdam a passport-free passage, but the pan-European police force to control a growing flux of people scarcely exists. Europol, the fledgling FBI of a united Europe, has all of 220 employees in its Dutch offices.

Yet this ''Europa'' is profoundly uneasy at its emergent role of magnet to the dispossessed of the world. Unlike in America, no mythology exhorts the embrace of ''your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.''

''There is a deep sense that we are full up, that we have no room and that we are being exploited,'' said John Salt, a migration expert at London University. ''No European country has voted for a multicultural society, or thought of itself as such, yet now we are all told we live in one.''

Certainly Dover looks like one. Many of the bed-and-breakfast accomodations have been converted into impromptu hostels for asylum-seekers. Signs advertise English lessons given by speakers of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Polish, German, Finnish, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Pashto and Urdu.

Earlier this year, the British government, responding to growing criticism of ''phony'' asylum-seekers, cut back on benefits. But the likes of Mr. Mohammed are still given enough for basic needs pending a decision on their status.

''What happens to the care-worn citizens of this once-proud port now cursed by association with a problem the government seems unable to deal with?'' thundered the Dover Express in a front-page ''Editorial Comment'' three days after the Chinese corpses were found.

Such exasperation is driving European attempts to make borders less penetrable and, in countries from Denmark to Switzerland, it is fueling a revival of rightist and nationalist parties - symbolized by the emergence of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in the Austrian government.

''Politically, the government wants to be seen as tough,'' said Annie Ledger, the chief executive of Migrant Helpline, a state-financed charity handling registration of 1,000 asylum-seekers a month in Dover. ''But personally I don't believe we are so generous that people leave countries thousands of miles away in search of our handouts.''

Certainly, that is not what drove Wu Xueping, who left Fujian Province in April after paying $25,000 to the smugglers who provided him with a fake passport.

His journey to London, he said, initially took him by plane to Belgrade. From there, he traveled by bus to Hungary, then on into the Czech Republic, before entering the European Union by crossing the mountains into Germany on foot - a three-day hike.

''After Germany, we were taken to Belgium, where we were locked in a small room in a house for about a month and fed on bread and water,'' he said. ''Then I was put into the back of a truck with eight other people, arriving in England on May 17.''

Mr. Wu, who has a wife and 9-year-old child back in Fujian Province, said that, as a member of the Falun Gong group banned last year, he had been persecuted in China. But economic and political motives blur when seeking a better life in Europe.

''One week's pay here can support a family for two or three months in China,'' said Chew Beng Lan, a lawyer in London.

''I know one girl working in a restaurant in Chinatown who told me one year worked here was equivalent to eight at home,'' he added.