Dover tragedy: refugees may have been fleeing religious persecution

 At least one of the victims who died in the Dover lorry tragedy on Monday was fleeing religious persecution, it was revealed yesterday. London-based Yang Cheng, 20, said he believed his 19-year-old cousin was in the lorry. The family in London had received calls from him throughout the journey. The young man had been promised a flight to London. Instead, he told his relatives, he was being herded, often at gunpoint on a gruelling overland trip from Fujian province in southern China, through Peking, Moscow, the Czech Republic to the Netherlands. The last message was from Zeebrugge. The boy said he would be arriving in England the next day. Yang Cheng said his cousin had left the city of Jiangle in Fujian province four months ago because he was being persecuted for being a Roman Catholic. The family had borrowed from moneylenders and relatives to finance his escape. Yang Cheng said they were devastated. It would take many years to repay the loans. Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, who chairs the Bishops' Conference Committee for Migrants said: "It is a tragedy that these young men died and horrifying that people could smuggle refugees across Europe in this way, making huge profits with no regard for human life. I feel deeply saddened and angry at what has happened. "As a priest, I believe a country of our wealth must be open to receive and accept refugees. Many of them have escaped wars, torture, ethnic cleansing and persecution. Many also have tremendous talents to offer. I've met a physicist, a doctor, a journalist and teachers who all came here seeking asylum but have never been a burden on our society." A spokesman for Amnesty International said the organisation had fiercely criticised China for abuses of human rights of religious and political minorities. China expert Columban priest Fr Padraig Digan said Fujian was one of the provinces with a larger concentration of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. A spokesman from the Refugee Legal Centre in London said several asylum seekers from Fujian province had been given refugee status in this country after opposing laws limiting numbers of children per family. One was a nurse who opposed the Chinese policy of forcing women to have abortions.

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