Ah Wang left China when he was 28, seven years ago. His wife stayed behind while he saw what life was like in the UK. He was misled by the snakeheads arranging his trip, and faced a difficult journey. Ah Wang travelled across countries by car but ‘needed to climb mountains when entering the borders because we had no passports.’ Local guides, part of the snakehead chain, would guide them across borders. They ended up staying in some places for up to a month while the next stages of the journey were planned. The journey ended up taking about a year. When Ah Wang eventually arrived in the UK by boat he was arrested by the police but was released soon after. He thought he had applied for asylum at that time, but several years later discovered that there was no record of his claim.
They told me that I would go straight to the UK. My visa was for going to Russia, because they said I could go straight to the UK from Russia. But it turned out it was a lie. They promised me the journey would be easy and safe and simple, and we would go there by plane. It turned out differently when we arrived in Russia but we couldn’t argue with them. The snakeheads lied to us. When we arrived in Russia our passports were taken away by them. They gave us no choice except to follow their instructions. We had no freedom. We were kept in a place and not allowed to go out. But even if we could have gone out we were scared of getting lost and not being able to speak the language. If the snakeheads told us we were leaving tomorrow then we would just pack our bags and the next day we’d be gone.
I was really scared throughout the journey because I didn’t know where I would be the next day. I couldn’t do anything except follow the snakeheads. You might have a nice snakehead in one place but a very nasty one in the next place. The people who took us across the borders weren’t always good, some of them took our valuables. ... Because I was controlled by them I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t even escape because I didn’t know where I was going to.
As told to researchers at the Research Institute for Health and Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society, Manchester. Part of a Joseph Roundtree Foundation Publication.