The UK is preparing to welcome potentially tens of thousands of migrants from Hong Kong, with the opening of a brand new visa for residents of the previous British colony this Sunday.
Final yr, China imposed a sweeping nationwide safety regulation on Hong Kong that critics say has stripped town of its autonomy and valuable civil and social freedoms, whereas cementing Beijing’s authoritarian rule over the territory. Since then, many distinguished activists and politicians have fled, whereas others have begun quietly arranging to maneuver abroad.
The regulation criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with international forces, and carries with it a most sentence of life imprisonment.
Quickly after it was proposed, the UK authorities announced it would provide a new path to citizenship for holders of British Nationwide (Abroad) passports, which had been launched within the last years of British rule over Hong Kong, enabling residents to carry onto a level of British citizenship, although with none long run proper of abode within the UK.
Under the new program, these with BN(O) standing and their eligible members of the family will be capable to journey to the UK to stay, examine and work, changing into eligible for settlement within the UK in 5 years, and citizenship 12 months after that.
In an announcement Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated by taking this transfer, “we have now honored our profound ties of historical past and friendship with the folks of Hong Kong, and we have now stood up for freedom and autonomy — values each the UK and Hong Kong maintain pricey.”
In response to knowledge from the UK Residence Workplace, acquired by CNN by means of a freedom of knowledge request, since July 2019, when anti-government protests broke out throughout town, over 400,000 BN(O) passports have been issued to Hong Kong residents, greater than the whole quantity issued for the earlier 15 years.
On the time the nationwide safety regulation was proposed, the variety of passports issued jumped from 7,515 in June 2020, to over 24,000 in July. These numbers may be decrease than the quantity of individuals making use of, because the coronavirus pandemic seems to have impacted the processing of passports final summer season.
Earlier than the UK introduced the brand new path to citizenship, there were around 350,000 BN(O) passport holders, however the variety of people who find themselves eligible — these born earlier than 1997, in British-ruled Hong Kong — might be as excessive as 3 million.
China has reacted angrily to the proposed plan, claiming it breaches the settlement underneath which Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese language rule, which London in flip argues the nationwide safety regulation undermines.
In an announcement Friday, China’s embassy to the UK stated the proposal to grant BN(O) holders a path to citizenship was “interfering in China’s inner affairs, and violating worldwide regulation and the fundamental norms governing worldwide relations.”
“The Chinese language facet has repeatedly expressed its grave concern and robust opposition, and will definitely reply with counter-measures,” the Embassy added. “(We urge) the UK facet to acknowledge the truth that Hong Kong is a part of China, instantly appropriate its errors and cease interfering in Hong Kong affairs, that are China’s inner affairs, in any type. Interference will solely be self-defeating.”
According to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, the Beijing authorities has mulled stripping BN(O) holders in Hong Kong of the precise to carry public workplace and probably even the precise to vote. Beijing has additionally instructed it should now not acknowledge the passports, stopping folks from utilizing them to journey, although this could have a restricted impact as most BN(O) passport holders additionally possess Hong Kong journey paperwork.
Writing earlier this month, Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam’s cupboard, instructed that because of the UK’s transfer, Beijing might revoke the precise of Hong Kongers to carry twin citizenship, one thing not loved by folks on the mainland, and impose Chinese language nationality legal guidelines absolutely on town.
“Thereafter, Hong Kong Chinese language who purchase a international nationality of their very own free will, can be deemed to have misplaced Chinese language nationality, in strict accordance with Article 9 of the Chinese language Nationality Regulation,” Ip stated. “Once they make a acutely aware resolution to go away and, by implication, quit on Hong Kong, it is just proper that they need to be requested to make their selection — China or a international nation — international citizenship or the precise of abode and the precise to vote in Hong Kong.”
Regardless of this and different threats, researchers estimate as many as 600,000 Hong Kongers might transfer to the UK inside the first three years of the coverage, and probably way more, as continued crackdowns underneath the nationwide safety regulation immediate folks to go away.
Nor would possibly BN(O) holders be the one folks leaving. Across the time of the 1997 handover, many Hong Kongers acquired international citizenship, particularly in Commonwealth international locations akin to Canada and Australia, each of which had beneficiant immigration insurance policies on the time.
Professional democracy activists and protesters who don’t maintain international nationality have also begun applying for asylum overseas in greater numbers, significantly within the wake of a crackdown final yr on those that took half within the 2019 unrest.
In December 2020, former lawmaker Ted Hui dramatically fled Hong Kong, benefiting from a faux environmental convention to leap his bail, and has now sought asylum within the UK. Nathan Regulation, a distinguished former lawmaker and chief of the 2014 Umbrella Motion, has additionally claimed asylum there, whereas others have sought safety in Germany, the US, and Australia.
Escaping abroad doesn’t at all times equal full freedom: Regulation and different exiles have complained of being tailed and even harassed by folks they consider are brokers of the Chinese language authorities, a cost Beijing’s representatives have denied. They’re additionally restricted in what communications they’ll have with household and pals again in Hong Kong, for concern of getting them in bother with the authorities.
Whereas most BN(O) holders residing within the UK are unlikely to be monitored in such a approach, the extraordinary political setting across the new scheme could make it troublesome to return for many who resolve they don’t need to keep in Britain.
Ray Wong, an activist who fled to Germany in 2017, changing into among the many first Hong Kongers to achieve asylum in Europe, advised CNN final yr that he missed “principally the whole lot in Hong Kong.”
“I miss being surrounded by Hong Kong folks, being surrounded by Cantonese-speaking folks,” he stated. “I even miss the very disagreeable local weather.”