Hundreds flee Hong Kong for UK, fearing China crackdown

LONDON (AP) — Cindy had a cushty life-style in Hong Kong: she owned a number of properties together with her husband, that they had a great enterprise going. However final yr she made up her thoughts to go away all of it behind and transfer her household to Britain, and never even a world pandemic was going to sway her choice.

“To uproot ourselves like that is undoubtedly not simple. However issues obtained uglier final yr, the federal government was actually driving us away,” mentioned the businesswoman and mom of two younger kids who didn’t give her household title as a result of she feared repercussions for talking out towards the Chinese language authorities. “Every thing we worth – freedom of speech, honest elections, liberties – has been eroded. It’s not the Hong Kong we knew, it’s not someplace we are able to name residence.”

Cindy, who landed in London final week, is one in every of 1000’s of Hong Kongers fleeing their hometown since Beijing imposed a draconian nationwide safety legislation on the territory final summer time.

Some are leaving as a result of they concern punishment for supporting pro-democracy protests. However many others, like her, say China’s encroachment on their lifestyle and civil liberties has change into insufferable, they usually need to search a greater future for his or her kids overseas. Most say they don’t plan to ever return.

Many firmed up their exit plans after Britain introduced in July that it might open a particular immigration pathway for as much as 5 million eligible Hong Kongers to dwell, work and ultimately settle within the U.Ok.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson mentioned this week the supply exhibits Britain is honoring its “profound ties of historical past” with Hong Kong, a former colony that reverted to Chinese language rule in 1997 on the understanding that it might retain its Western-style freedoms and far of its political autonomy not seen on mainland China.

Functions for the British Nationwide Abroad visa formally open Sunday, although many like Cindy have already arrived on British soil to get a head begin. Eligible Hong Kongers can at the moment come to the U.Ok. for six months, however from Sunday they’ll apply for the best to dwell and work within the nation for 5 years. After that, they’ll apply for settled standing after which British citizenship.

Britain’s authorities mentioned some 7,000 individuals with British Nationwide Abroad (BNO) standing have arrived since July. It estimates that over 300,000 individuals will take up the supply of prolonged residency rights within the subsequent 5 years.

Cindy mentioned she needed to go away as quickly as attainable as a result of she feared Beijing would quickly transfer to halt the exodus.

“The Chinese language authorities mentioned it hasn’t dominated out harsher techniques,” she mentioned. “I feel they might lash out if tens of 1000’s of younger professionals begin leaving, as a result of that will absolutely upset Hong Kong’s financial system they usually wouldn’t like that in any respect.”

Beijing mentioned Friday it’ll not acknowledge the BNO passport as a journey doc or type of identification, and criticized Britain’s citizenship supply as a transfer that “significantly infringed” on China’s sovereignty. It was unclear what impact the announcement would have as a result of many Hong Kongers carry a number of passports.

Beijing drastically hardened its stance on Hong Kong after large anti-government protests in 2019 turned violent and plunged the town right into a months-long disaster. For the reason that safety legislation’s enactment, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, and the motion’s younger leaders have both been jailed or fled overseas.

As a result of the brand new legislation broadly outlined acts of subversion, secession, overseas collusion and terrorism, many in Hong Kong concern that expressing any type of political opposition – even posting messages on social media – might land them in hassle.

“I feel in the event you knew when to close up, you’ll be OK staying in Hong Kong,” mentioned 39-year-old Fan, who additionally lately arrived in London. Like Cindy, he didn’t need to present his full title. “However I don’t need to try this. I can complain concerning the queen if I needed to – I can say something right here.”

Fan, an animator, had offered his flat in Hong Kong and plans to slowly construct a brand new life in Britain – a rustic he had by no means even visited earlier than. He received’t be alone in ranging from scratch.

“This can be a actually distinctive emigration wave – some individuals haven’t had time to really go to the nation they’re relocating to. Many don’t have any expertise of residing overseas,” mentioned Miriam Lo, who runs Excelsior UK, a relocation company. “And due to the pandemic, they couldn’t even come over to view a house earlier than deciding to purchase.”

The British authorities estimates there are 2.9 million BNO standing holders eligible to maneuver to the U.Ok., with an additional 2.3 million eligible dependants. The U.Ok. launched BNO passports within the Eighties for individuals who have been a “British dependent territories citizen by reference to Hong Kong.” Till lately, the passports had restricted advantages as a result of they didn’t confer nationality or the best to dwell and work in Britain.

Cindy, the businesswoman, was nonetheless recovering from jetlag, however she’s upbeat about her future.

“We need to convey Hong Kong’s power, our assets and our funds right here,” she mentioned. “The transfer is for our youngsters, certain. However we need to construct an entire new life right here for ourselves too.”

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