An old building in east London is becoming a community base for Filipina, Chinese and Vietnamese women, but groups like this need help
“The first thing I did when I came to the UK was look for a job!” Susan laughs. “No, but really, the first thing I did was look for a community.” Susan arrived in the UK in the late 1980s, having fled the Philippines with her baby daughter. She had risked her life and been imprisoned as an activist unionising workers in the north of the country. Miners she knew were forced to live in “camps”, where whole families slept in rooms of five square metres, sharing unsanitary latrines. Dangerous conditions in the mines resulted in frequent fatalities.
Susan considers herself fortunate that she didn’t lose her life when trade union activists in the area were targeted, though many of her colleagues did. By chance, when the arrests took place she was in hospital giving birth to her daughter. “These days I tell my daughter that she saved my life,” Susan tells me. Yet when her baby was only a week old, Susan was arrested and jailed. Conditions in the prison were “horrible”, and she was separated from her newborn. Up to a hundred women were enclosed in a single room, where political prisoners like her might share a four-tier bunkbed and a single toilet with those arrested for burglary or murder. After several months in jail, and supported by trade unions around the world campaigning for her release as a nursing mother, she managed to relocate to the UK, determined to give her daughter a “fair chance of peace and survival”.