TOUGH new immigration laws are forcing Liverpool's Chinese migrants out of their jobs in catering and back to the cockle beds in a desperate bid to make a living, it was claimed last night.
The news emerged on the same day that a badly decomposed body was washed up near to where at least 20 Chinese cocklers drowned earlier this year in Morecambe Bay.
An increase in the number of immigration raids has forced many undocumented migrants out of their traditional low-paid jobs in the catering industry, according to Chinese business leaders in Liverpool.
Unable to claim benefits or find any other means of support, the workers are forced into the clutches of ruthless gangmasters who run the cockle-picking operation in Morecambe Bay.
Simon Wong, organiser of the Chinese Wah Sing association in Liverpool's Chinatown, said: "In Liverpool, Chinese catering businesses are less and less willing to employ Chinese workers now, as immigration inspections are becoming more and more frequent.
"These people cannot even support themselves any more.
"The Government's tougher immigration approach is creating a climate of fear among the Chinese, to the extent that no one is on the side of these workers."
Brian Wong, chief executive of Liverpool Chinatown Business Association,
confirmed that the city's restaurateurs and businesses were now reluctant to employ Chinese workers in case they fell foul of the new immigration legislation.
"If they are not allowed to work, they are forced to go back to cockling, which is unfortunate," he said.
"They are not entitled to claim benefits or to work in the catering industry, so who can they turn to?
"The law is the law and we can't bend it to suit certain groups of people. I believe these Chinese workers are really hard-working people, given the opportunity.
"But the new legislation has tended to make the restaurants more cautious in employing them."
Around 180 Chinese migrants are now back on the sands of Morecambe Bay to pick cockles, only three months after the rapidly rising tide claimed the lives of 20 of their compatriots, many of whom were believed to be based in Liverpool.
Although search teams recovered 20 bodies, Lancashire Police did not rule out the possibility that more people were missing.
A force spokesman said the body washed up yesterday could be that of a 21st victim.
He said: "Police were called and confirmed it was a badly decomposed body that would appear to have been in the water for a considerable amount of time."
* TOUGH new regulations are to be brought in to prevent a Morecambe Bay-type tragedy on Wirral's cockle beds.
The Environment Agency is planning to limit the number of cocklers on the Dee Estuary to 50.
It wants to bring in a full-time sea fishery officer to patrol the beds and enforce the new rules.