Chinese Migrants Use Serbia as Gate to Europe

ByABC News
July 10, 2000, 8:33 PM

B E L G R A D E, Yugoslavia, July 13 -- Theyre known as the geese a long line of Chinese in their 20s, mostly men, all wearing cheap casual clothes and carrying small knapsacks as they pass through customs at Belgrades Surcin International Airport.

The passengers arriving on a plane from Beijing on a recent afternoon include a five-member Chinese delegation, which leaves the airport in an official car with Yugoslav army plates, and a dozen or so Serbs, all carrying huge air-conditioner boxes labeled Mitsubishi. But the majority are geese.

Its like that all the time, my child, says pilot Uca Prokopijevic, coming through customs with his own Mitsubishi air conditioner. A flight to Beijing is empty, but the flight [back] to Belgrade is completely packed. Try booking yourself. It will be impossible to find a seat from Beijing.

The immigrants are met by a local Chinese man with a mobile phone in one hand and a list of names in the other. After making some calls, he leads them outside in groups of five to 15, paired like schoolchildren on a field trip.

They head for a remote parking lot, where some second-hand Western-made cars with Italian or German plates appear out of nowhere. Everybody gets into a car, and they all disappear.

Belgrade as Gateway

You might not think Yugoslavia, one of the poorest and most isolated countries in Europe, could be a land of opportunity. But for about 15,000 Chinese immigrants, it is a new place to do business and for thousands more, it has been a gateway to the West.

About 80,000 Chinese have used Yugoslavia as a first step for their clandestine journeys to the West since the early 1990s, says Predrag Milojevic, who runs a consulting agency for those Chinese who want to stay in Yugoslavia. You even have a Chinese name for them, Ya-Zi, or geese in English. They are using Serbia as a gateway to the West at the rate of 400 people a week.