Teenage boy 'Hou' standing against brick wall

Our work with child refugees and asylum seekers

Hou came to the UK when he was 13, escaping persecution in China. He was taken to a British couple, who abused him physically and sexually. After managing to escape he was soon recruited by a gang and eventuially arrested. He was taken to an immigration centre and faced deportation. Hou began a hunger strike in an attempt to end his life. This is his story. 

Age 13 - Fleeing China

When Hou was just 13, his parents were taken away by the Chinese authorities. They were being persecuted for their faith, and sensing they were in danger had sent Hou to live with a family friend.

Hou was told that his parents had been killed and their organs harvested. Fearing for Hou’s life, the family friend arranged Hou’s escape from China and sent him to the UK.

‘I felt so scared staying there. I had no choice other than to run’

Once Hou arrived in the UK, he was handed to a British couple who immediately began abusing him. They kept him prisoner for many months, not allowing him to leave the house or go to school, instead forcing him to do household chores and physically assaulting him. If he missed a spot while cleaning Hou would be beaten, and soon the man began sexually abusing Hou.

One day Hou was alone in the house and tried to open the front door. To his surprise it was unlocked. Hou escaped and found his way onto a train to London. It was the only place he had ever heard of in the UK.

Age 14 - Sleeping rough in London

At the age of 14 Hou was sleeping rough in London. He was recruited by a gang who forced him to sell flowers in exchange for a spot on the floor of a room crowded with older men. He stayed there for some time, and never met another child.

Eventually, Hou escaped the gang and left London. He began working in kitchens up and down the country. ‘No one asked my age’ said Hou ‘They just wanted me to work’.

Hou continued to work under the radar, unaware of his rights as a child.

Age 19 - Facing prison

At the age of 19 he fathered a son, and returned to London desperate to find work. He was tracked down by his old gangmaster Li, who forced him into committing fraud for the gang. They took Hou to different locations and constantly monitored him. Hou was regularly beaten, and was told his life would be in danger if he ever went to the police.

‘When I think about that time, even now I feel very scared’ says Hou, ‘It was a very hard time. I felt I had no choices’.

One day while working for the gang, Hou was arrested and sent to prison for a lengthy sentence. After serving half of his time, Hou was told he would be moved to an immigration detention centre, and stay there indefinitely.

'There was no freedom and without freedom there was no life'

Hou spent over two years in detention facing deportation to China, where he feared he would be killed. Immigration staff had taken away his phone so he lost contact with his son, and after months of limbo, long term detention took its toll. Hou’s mental health worsened and he gave up hope. He began a hunger strike in an attempt to end his life.

‘I thought my life was over, that dying in China or in detention were just the same. There was no freedom and without freedom there was no life. I just gave up’ says Hou. ‘When I was really close to dying, a charity [at the prison] helped me to see my life was not yet over, and to focus on living in the hope of seeing my son again one day.’

'He gave me hope again'

Hou decided to end his hunger strike. Sadly, he suffered massive health complications after so long without food. He needed a zimmer frame to walk, and still struggled with depression. For the first time, Hou starting talking about his trafficking history, and was then immediately referred to The Children’s Society and a worker named Jacob.

‘When [my The Children’s Society worker] visited me for the first time, he gave me hope again. He told me about trafficking and helped me believe there was a chance I could be released. It was so hard to believe after so long. Until then, no one visiting me gave me any hope, it was always bad news about my case being difficult, but with him it was different.’

Hou’s solicitor helped him appeal his deportation order and apply for asylum, and after two years of waiting Hou won his case and was finally released from detention.

Jacob and Hou met regularly for one-to-one sessions, so Hou could start recovering from the trauma he had experienced. ‘He became the first person I ever told everything to, even to this day’ says Hou, ‘he listened to me and accepted me where no one else ever has’.

Jacob supported Hou to access emergency accommodation and the medical treatment he desperately needed. With Jacob’s help Hou was awarded refugee status and managed to secure long term accommodation. In total they worked together for fifteen months. ‘Everyone needs a home and a future. I never had a home in 10 years of my life, nowhere that was safe and mine. But now I do, for the first time.’

Age 24 - A future

Hou is now 24 and sees his son on a regular basis. He recently began walking unaided for the first time in two years.