“This is not immigration, this is exile!”
Many Hong Kongers who have left the territory since China imposed the sweeping National Security Law (NSL) nearly a year ago are unsure of when – or ever – they will be able to go home.
Pro-democracy activists and elected politicians have come under increasing pressure since demonstrations swept the city in 2019. Some have been charged with security offences that carry a possible life sentence while others are in jail for organising and participating in the protests.
On Thursday, police arrested five senior executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper founded in 1995, accusing them of “colluding with foreign forces”, an offence under the NSL.
Into the lifeboats
Hong Kongers began to flee abroad unwillingly, to escape the risk of arbitrary arrest or to distance themselves from a place they no longer recognise
On October 14, 2020, the first Hong Kong protester was granted asylum in Germany and, since then, countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have rolled out various “lifeboat” plans for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in need of asylum.
The European Parliament has also passed a resolution calling on member states to participate in an international lifeboat scheme.
The UK scheme, which launched on January 31, opens a pathway to citizenship.
About 34,000 Hong Kongers applied for visas in the United Kingdom in the three months after it launched, according to statistics released by the UK Home Office.
Some of those who made the move have sufficient savings to support themselves in their new home or transferable skills that make it easier to find jobs. Others are less lucky, forced to share cramped accommodation in the UK as they try to rebuild their lives thousands of kilometres from home.
They come from different parts of Hong Kong, are different people with different experiences, but they are united in their commitment to democratic freedom and fear of returning to the place where they once felt they belonged.