Mei Lo was raised on the west coast of China, and her family were eager for her to work abroad. Mei Lo consented – she thought she could help her family and get an education at the same time. The family agreed to pay a travel facilitator £18,000 to get Mei Lo to the UK. The journey was difficult and took 3 months and when she arrived in the UK her lack of papers landed her in a detention centre. She felt constantly bewildered. Upon her release she contacted her cousin who got her a job in a restaurant.
She worked 14 hours a day without holiday or sick pay for just £110 a week – about £1.40 an hour. Her accommodation, a mattress on the floor in a room with 4 others, was tied to the job making it difficult for her to leave and find better work. She was treated badly by the restaurant owners and staff who would bully and shout at her. She didn’t understand English and didn’t know how to escape. Mei Lo grew very tired, lonely and stressed. She finally managed to leave and find a different job where she was treated better. However, her wages were still extremely low and accommodation very poor. It was only after getting married (unofficially) and becoming pregnant that Mei Lo found out that she was not authorised to be in the UK. She was devastated. The £18,000 was meant to cover getting her legal status as well and she had been struggling to pay off that debt.
Her husband finally got his asylum application accepted but Mei Lo was denied. Now with two children and unable to return to China, she is left extremely vulnerable by this decision. She hopes to appeal the decision and gain legal status so that she can look after her children without fear of deportation and exploitation.
Case Study courtesy of The Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society : www.waiyin.org.uk