Chinese nationals desperate to make their way to Europe are forced to pay ruthless gangs up to €20,000 to be smuggled across borders.
Thousands of people leave China through underground networks of traffickers known as "snakeheads", who charge huge amounts of money for forged passports and passage abroad.
It was confirmed yesterday that the 39 people who died in a refrigerated container that was found in Essex were Chinese nationals.
While the economy in China has been booming over the past few decades, this surge in wealth has not been evenly distributed.
There is a growing gap between the wealthy cities of the eastern seaboard and the poorer ones in the north-east and provinces. In small villages in coastal Fujian province, there are signs on the wall with mobile phone numbers and offers to help with "working and labouring in Europe".
The snakehead gangs operate in many countries, including taking illegal migrants from North Korea into South Korea.
These criminals then deal in turn with international crime syndicates, believed to be operating out of Spain, Belgium, Italy and Britain, as well as perhaps here in Ireland.
The representatives of the snakehead gangs are often relatives or family friends of those leaving, and the relationship with the snakeheads can be complicated.
Since 2005, the majority of people from China trying to get into Europe have come from Fujian and the north-east.
In recent years, the flood of illegal emigration out of China has slowed due to a government crackdown.
However, the economy is starting to slow down again because of the US-China trade war, and this means people are eager to leave.
Those trying to get out are promised a life of wealth abroad and, crucially, the promise of buying and owning their own properties which can then be handed on to their children.
In China, property rights are restricted.
Essex Police yesterday confirmed that 31 of the deceased in the container were men and eight were women.
"This is an incredibly sensitive and high-profile investigation, and we are working swiftly to gather as full a picture as possible as to how these people lost their lives," said Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills.
"Our recovery of the bodies from the container is ongoing and the post- mortem and identification processes, which will be lengthy and complex, can then begin.
"Our number one priority right now is preserving the dignity of the 39 people who have died and ensuring that we get answers."