Sister B' is a middle-aged Chinese prostitute. She is often attacked and robbed and her clients frequently don't pay her. 'Sister A' from Jilin looks after a 60-year-old man for bed and board and an occasional handout. She used to work as a nanny for a Chinese family with two children. She was sacked after she collapsed from the gruelling conditions - rising at 5am and working until midnight, six days a week. But this abuse didn't take place on the mainland. The two women live in France. Their plight is outlined in a report compiled by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation to highlight the problem of people trafficking from China to Europe. They are part of a new wave of exploitation of illegal Chinese immigrants in Europe. Over the past five years or so, International Labour Organisation (ILO) legal adviser Gao Yun has been investigating the situation of Chinese trafficked into France, Italy and Britain. She is due to publish her latest findings in May. But Ms Gao said there were changes appearing in the areas targeted by the trade. Where once Chinese illegal immigrants were dominated by people from Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, increasingly it was middle-aged women from the northeast of China who were fleeing to Europe. Without the strong family networks that Chinese from the southeast have, and with no legal paperwork and unable to speak the local language, Ms Gao said that the women had no choice but to work as illegal domestic helpers within the Chinese community or as prostitutes. 'This is a new phenomenon. Never before have we found women from [northeast] China working in prostitution in Europe,' said Ms Gao. 'Many Chinese women from the northeast of China, from Liaoning Jilin and Heilongjiang , come here [to France] because they lost their jobs as part of the reform of state enterprises. When they get here they don't speak the local language. It's their only choice to work as babysitters or as prostitutes. Some of them are forced into it, others do it voluntarily but they are still in a very vulnerable situation.' Because of their advanced age they cannot earn much money as a prostitute. '[Their services] are very cheap,' she said, adding that they might make as little as Euro20 (HK$242) for sex. China began reforming its state sector in the early 1990s, throwing about 60 million city dwellers out of long-term employment, with the industrial sector of the northeast being particularly hard hit. Traditionally, Chinese illegal immigrants to Europe have come from the southeast of the country. They were encouraged, by the tales of fortunes to be made, to sneak into Europe via already-established semi-legal family networks in the host country. The tragedy of this new wave of immigration is that these middle-aged women from the northeast are often motivated by despair - they have no job, they have family problems and many are divorced. 'The purpose is to make a break rather than to reunite a family,' said Ms Gao. She said it was easier for these women to get to Europe than immigrants from China's southeast because governments had not yet identified this region as a problem area for immigration. They could obtain legal passports and visas with the 'complicity' of semi-legal emigration companies (zhongjie), which charged a fee of about 50,000 yuan (HK54,900) or 60,000 yuan on top of travel expenses. Many arrived on direct flights, entered legally and overstayed their visas. They arrived with no help network, and often owed an average of about Euro3,000 to the zhongjie. They did not speak the language, were worried about being arrested and didn't know their rights. The underground Chinese sweatshops usually would not employ them so many would end up working as nannies for Chinese families. 'Of all the sectors ... where immigrant labour is concentrated, domestic service is the sector where women have the longest working hours ... 21 hours per day,' Ms Gao wrote in an earlier ILO report. 'These employees are given bed and board and are paid between Euro400 and Euro500 a month. They live in extreme conditions: they are underfed, they sleep on mattresses on the floor and they are at their employers' disposal 24 hours a day.' Such conditions are so unbearable that 'prostitution seems the easiest way to make ends meet and sometimes becomes their main source of income', she said. The head of the ILO's special action programme to combat forced labour, Roger Plant, said France was a key area, but Spain and Italy were new hot spots of concern. 'The Chinese are right at the bottom of the pile along with Eastern Europeans. What we're seeing is a pattern of severe labour exploitation.' Life for the illegal immigrants from southeast China is just as hard and has been well documented in the French media. Chinese from Fujian and Zhejiang end up with bigger debts to their snakeheads - often as much as Euro30,000 - because they need to travel complex routes, often overland, on forged documents (typically fake Japanese and South Korean passports) to get into Europe. En route, they risk natural hazards - they may have to climb mountains and cross marshes - and deal with violence and abuse from the smugglers. 'They have this colossal debt and they have to work incredibly hard to pay it off and sometimes their family is threatened back home if they don't pay,' said Mr Plant, adding that typically they worked in underground sweatshops making leather goods and clothes, often bound for brand-name companies. Ms Gao said: 'When we interviewed French labour inspectors they told us almost all French-labelled brands are made in illegal clandestine Chinese workshops. Our research shows that all Chinese legal and illegal sweatshops are normally directly controlled by Chinese employers who supply local companies - French and Italian companies. When you see a 'Made in France' label on famous brands they are using, directly or indirectly through this sub-contracting system, Chinese illegal migrants, Chinese victims.' While it is difficult to gauge the scale of the problem because figures are notoriously unreliable, Mr Plant estimated there were about 30,000 illegal or irregular Chinese migrants in France, 35,000 in Britain, 25,000 in Italy and about 20,000 in Spain. There was evidence these numbers were growing dramatically in countries that had 'a very large informal economy' such as Spain and Italy, he said. Meanwhile, in Britain the government's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has been documenting the trafficking of teenage Chinese girls for what appears to be prostitution. The report's author, Aarti Kapoor, describes how many Chinese children arrive at British airport immigration unaccompanied and without a passport and go missing a couple of days after they are placed in a temporary shelter. Authorities suspect an agent confiscates the child's passport during the flight, leaves him or her to claim asylum at immigration and returns to abduct the child later. From the testimony of teenage Chinese girls who have been rescued later it is suspected that many are forced into prostitution. 'There is a larger market for exploitative services for girls than for boys,' the report concludes. Of all the trafficking networks into Britain, the Chinese one seemed to be the most smoothly functioning and organised, said a source at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 'There seems to be a high incidence of Chinese nationals and Vietnamese nationals entering the UK right now,' she said. 'And when it comes to trafficking into the UK, evidence seems to point to [Chinese networks] being the most organised.' While China has indicated it wants to tackle this problem - last December it published its long-awaited National Action Plan against trafficking and is working with the ILO to raise awareness of the exploitation of trafficking networks in hot spots including the northeast - Mr Plant said Beijing was not ready to press for change soon. 'The Chinese are not going to denounce these conditions because under current circumstances they are going to gain nothing from doing so,' he said. 'The Chinese obviously want to link work against trafficking and exploitation with pressure to have more legal access to European labour markets.' He said there was obviously a big demand for Chinese underground labour in Europe as Chinese were willing to work under conditions locals would not accept. The Chinese would like Europe to open more legal channels for Chinese workers to take jobs abroad and that may be the answer, he said. 'If you've got a huge demand - some say half of the Chinese restaurants would shut down in a major European city without access to underground labour - then you're not going to get very far' by simply cracking down on the illegal immigration, he said.