National security law worsens political environment; 110,000 Hong Kong people have left home for a year

Hong Kong Ming Pao reported on Monday (July 5) that the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong has made “stay or go” a pertinent issue for many Hong Kong people, while the new visa and immigration programs offered by foreign governments to Hong Kong people are seen as a “lifeboat” for them to escape from Hong Kong. Ming Pao, based on immigration records provided by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, reported that in the past year, the net number of Hong Kong residents moving out of Hong Kong airports was nearly 109,000, accounting for 1.45% of Hong Kong’s total population of 7.5 million.

Political repression, Hong Kong people fleeing

Ming Pao’s report points out that the United Kingdom is the preferred destination for Hong Kong residents to emigrate, and that last August was the peak month for Hong Kong residents to emigrate to the United Kingdom, with a net migration of more than 22,000 people in one month; the number of people who emigrated to the United Kingdom last month was also as high as 13,689. The report also cited data from the Immigration Department of Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior, stating that between July last year and May this year, about 1,700 Hong Kong residents were granted permission to settle in Taiwan, while another 16,000 were granted local residence permits in Taiwan.

According to Reuters, a total of 34,000 Hong Kong people applied in the two months after the British government opened a new visa program for BNO passport holders earlier this year, and another 6,800 applied to Canada in the first four months of the year. The actual number of Hong Kong people going to Canada is likely to be much higher than that, since many of them emigrated to Canada long before the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, got Canadian passports and then returned to live in Hong Kong.

For historical reasons, Britain and Canada are the two most popular immigration destinations for Hong Kong people.

Hong Kong Ming Pao reported, citing Hong Kong people who have moved to the UK, that there are some Hong Kong people communities in the UK where the number of newly settled Hong Kong families has increased from a few dozen to two or three hundred in just six months.

The British government announced in early April this year that it would allocate 43.1 million pounds (about $59.91 million) in the current fiscal year to help Hong Kong people who have moved to the UK through the British National (Overseas) Passport visa program to integrate into local life as soon as possible, including the provision of English language courses and poverty alleviation support for Hong Kong people.

Hong Kong people in Canada provide assistance to their compatriots

According to Reuters, many Hong Kong people who have already settled in Canada, as well as Hong Kong expatriate groups, are joining forces to provide timely and urgent assistance to their compatriots fleeing Hong Kong, including providing employment or accommodation, legal or psychological counseling, and even driving new immigrants to go shopping for groceries.

Some Hong Kong expatriate groups assisting new immigrants were formed in the midst of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen protests, and they see helping new immigrants as a concrete act of protest against Beijing.

In an interview with Reuters, a 38-year-old man surnamed Ho said, “We are fighting. These are my comrades and we have the same values.”

Mr. Ho, who runs a cooking school near Toronto, has hired a former assistant to a pro-democracy political figure in Hong Kong to help him promote his business online, and recently hired a Hong Kong resident who participated in the 2019 “Return to China” demonstrations and protests in Hong Kong as a kitchen assistant. “If I don’t help them, who will?” he said. He said.

Mr. Ho moved to Canada in his late teens before the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong. He is also just one of several groups that have emerged over the past two years to assist new immigrants from Hong Kong in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

The Reuters report said there was nothing unusual about new immigrants helping each other, but many Canadians told Reuters the situation was actually urgent because many of the people they were trying to help feared they had been arrested for having participated in demonstrations and might not be able to afford the professional assistance needed to move overseas.

Mr. Ho, who did not want to disclose his full name and also the names of his employees for fear of being pursued by the Hong Kong government, said, “It’s my natural responsibility. If I were in Hong Kong, I would be desperate too. If someone lends a helping hand, of course I’ll grab it.”

National Security Law rampages, Hong Kong mutes

After Beijing implemented the national security law in Hong Kong a year ago, it banned a range of political activities and effectively ended public protests and demonstrations. Many pro-democracy politicians and activists, including Wong Chi-fung and Lai Chi-ying, frequent critics of Beijing, have been jailed under the state security law or on other protest-related charges. Many have also fled Hong Kong.

Both Beijing and the Hong Kong government say the national security law is necessary to restore stability after the violent “Return to China” protests in 2019, and that it protects the freedoms China promised to Hong Kong after the handover of sovereignty. “The National Security Law defends the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” said a spokesman for Hong Kong’s Security Bureau. “Any enforcement action by Hong Kong law enforcement units against any individual or entity is evidence-based and strictly in accordance with the law.”

The Canadian government has also eased restrictions on admitting Hong Kong immigrants following the implementation of Hong Kong’s national security law. The Canadian government created a new visa program for Hong Kong residents that allows young Hong Kong residents who have received a university degree or diploma within the past five years to enter the country and who have recently worked or completed university studies in Canada to be granted permanent residency. But the new crown epidemic is complicating matters slightly. Under Canada’s latest travel restrictions, even those Hong Kong people who are allowed to immigrate to Canada under the latest visa program must have an employer before they can enter.

Hong Kong people have difficulty entering Canada, expatriates reach out for support

In such a situation, many support groups for Hong Kong people come in handy. Eric Li, founding president of the Toronto Hong Kong Parents Association, told Reuters that the group has assisted 40 people so far, half of whom have received three-year permits.

Eric Li was previously president of the Canada-Hong Kong Link, an advocacy group founded in 1997. He said the Toronto Hong Kong Parents Association has encouraged 20 employers to offer employment to new immigrants from Hong Kong, including the aforementioned Mr. Ho’s cooking school, a restaurant, a construction company, a travel agency and a family that hired a Cantonese teacher for their children.

This Toronto Hong Kong expatriate organization also organized interpreters, lawyers and psychologists to provide assistance to the new arrivals, as well as providing 10 rooms as free temporary accommodation for the new arrivals. The 10 rooms come from PTA members or their friends.

Volunteers in Calgary told Reuters they have assisted at least 29 Hong Kong people seeking political asylum by driving to the airport to pick them up and driving them to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping or to the bank.