Creating a life after trauma: building a future in Hong Kong

As told to Mhairi McLaughlin and Sophie Hines. Translation by Tegan Smyth.

Laura and Maria*, are from Madagascar. They arrived in Hong Kong around a year ago, after fleeing forced marriages to men in Mainland China. This is their story (Part 2 of 2). See Part 1 here.

And then you escaped to Hong Kong?

M & L: Not straight away.

Poisson coco, ready to serve. Photo: Vlad Popov

So you were in China for 4 months?

M: Actually, it was more like a year. In that time, I was bought three times. I tried everything to escape. It was hell. You knew no one, you can’t speak the language. Finally, there was a point where my visa had run out.

When I did finally escape, I could only do it because the visa in my passport needed to be renewed in Shenzhen. When we got to the border, I ran. I managed to get to the Chungking Mansions. Then I was directed towards Vision First and the Refugee Union.


How did you escape?

M: When the visa ran out, this was another chance [to escape]. You see, if the visa ended, I had to come here.


Could you ever leave the place you were being held or the men you were sold to?

M: No. you can’t escape. You can basically never leave the house unaccompanied. They often told me to smile, despite everything that was going on – often, it took that, and more to be allowed out of the house.

Pretending to smile and acting happy. If you just cry every day, they lock you in the house and you’re not allowed out.


Can you return to Madagascar now that you escaped the situation in China?

M: I can’t – I would be threatened and maybe even killed by the people who sold me. They lost their money because I escaped, they lost what they earned for me.


Is that what the situation is for both of you? This is truly shocking. Isn’t there a reaction or outrage, seeing that so many women have disappeared?

L: it is for this reason that we have done everything in our power, everything we could to escape. It is very hard, it is an impossible life, being married to someone you do not love. It is better being here [as a refugee] than it is living in that situation.


Have you had any contact from your family?

M: No. a lot of Madagascan girls are where we were, still, in China. They haven’t managed to escape. They don’t have a visa to get out.

Once they are married, their papers are destroyed. There are only us two and another woman who managed to escape.


Now you’re here, how are you living? Are you living together?

M: We have some friends. We also sometimes slept on the floor at Refugee Union, before we had a place to stay.


Is it comfortable?

Yeah, I guess.


What do you do most days? Do you come here and spend time with your friends?

Yes, we spend time together and we come to Refugee Union. When you can’t work, there is not much else to do.


If the laws could be amended, would you like to work?

L: Yes, definitely.

M: Yes of course, we want to work. It is hard surviving here [not being able to work].


What would you tell the government if you could?

L&M: Change the laws so we can work. We want to be able to work and give back to society.


Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. You are so strong, we really admire your strength and we hope you are getting the support you need now.

L&M: Thank you.

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