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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, March 01, 2007
    Seeing Ghosts

    Seeing Ghosts is important because it reinforces what you already know, about the illegal and exploitative trade in migrant workers. About the distress on leaving home and family for the pragmatic pursuit of a living wage abroad; about the high levels of dept owed to the organisers of the illicit, horrific six-month journeys which not all survive, about the migrants' high hopes immediately dashed on emerging into the cold hard light of a slummy English industrial estate or wind-blasted farm, on being abandoned in squalid accommodation, on receiving the first piteously low pay packet and realising that you've not bought yourself a future for your children back home, but instead your family is now indebted to criminals with whom you're mired in a trap from which you're unlikely to ever be released.

    Ghosts has had a lot of publicity, and on tonight's showing at FACT the sympathetic reviews are merited. It's an impressive docu-drama, disturbingly impressive. So I shan't repeat what's been said. I will, however, try to describe what for me is the most disturbing thing about the project. It is the challenge which the viewer is left with at the end. To consider supporting The Morecambe Victims Fund.

    On 5 February 2004, twenty-three Chinese illegals died in Morecambe Bay. Their families in China are still paying off their debts, an impossible task for some because they have lost the wage earner of the family. This has put them under enourmous pressure from the money lenders who have beaten and intimidated several of the families, and there have also been incidents of children being forced into prostitution until the debt has been paid off. The Morecambe Victims Fund aims to raise the £500,000 needed to pay off the debt of the victims familes. Sobering - and revealing - to note that they have raised just £10,000 so far.

    The internal dialogue is running through me now. Why pay towards this fund when the money is clearly going directly to criminals. The families themselves won't financially benefit, though they will have the great relief of winding-up an awful debt. But why be so reluctant to give towards this, when I don't think twice about lining the pockets of the shareholders of Sainsburys, Asda and Tesco - all implicated in the economic structures which depend on the exploitation of illegal workers, when despite all the recent furore over bird flu and the graphic scenes in Ghosts I'll still buy poultry processed in squalid Norfolk industrial sheds by people on a less-than-living wage, when I uncritically pay my taxes to a government which heartlessly continues to refuse to help these bereaved, impoverished and still-exploited families. I'll sleep on this. Perhaps. Or, haunted by it now, perhaps I won't.