The Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice has written to the Hong Kong community in London to reassure them of their safety following “violent scenes” at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester.
It comes as one community leader fears violence against pro-democracy supporters could be “ten times worse” in London amid heightened political tension between recent Hong Kong arrivals and the Chinese expat community.
In the letter to Hong Kong community leaders, Debbie Weekes-Bernard said she was “appalled to see the violent scenes in Manchester” in which pro-democracy protester Bob Chan was allegedly attacked inside the consulate grounds on October 16.
The incident is being investigated by Manchester Police, who said a man in his 30s was left with several minor injuries after the alleged assault.
“It followed an initially peaceful protest appearing to escalate, and our wide-ranging enquiries include looking into why this was the case,” Manchester Police said in a statement on Monday.
“So far, we have identified a number of offences including assaults and public order offences.”
No one has been arrested and enquiries continue, including gathering a range of evidence including CCTV, police body-worn video, mobile phone footage and witness statements.
“I both understand and sympathise as to how these events can make Hong Kong Londoners fearful for their personal safety and hesitant to exercise their freedom of speech,” Ms Weekes-Bernard wrote in the letter to the integration steering group earlier this month.
“The Mayor and I are committed to working with you to ensure that London is a place where Hong Kongers feel safe and where new arrivals from Hong Kong are fully supported to settle into their communities and build a sense of belonging.”
More than 35,000 Hong Kongers have migrated to London since the Government introduced the British National (Overseas) visa scheme almost two years ago.
It follows the imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, which led to the loss of the political rights and freedoms of millions.
Thousands moved to the UK in pursuit of democratic freedoms, but the Manchester incident has spurred fears about Chinese surveillance.
A former Hong Kong district councillor who now lives in London, Carmen Lau, told the Standard that she and others are afraid of surveillance or possible harassment.
“I was quite worried about the Manchester incident because in the following week we had another rally [in London].
“During the rally people talked about whether something would happen when they passed through Chinatown and walked to the Chinese Embassy.
“They were afraid of stepping out to protest after [Manchester]. We all are afraid of surveillance or some possible harassment.
“After that incident I actually became more cautious, or became aware whenever I go outside, whenever I walk on the streets.”
Simon Cheng, who founded Hong Kongers in Britain, said the biggest concern faced by the community is “political tension” exacerbated by the Manchester alleged attack.
“Even when coming to London, we still feel maybe it’s not safe,” he told the Standard.
“What happened in Manchester, it could be ten times worse if the Chinese Embassy can move into a bigger space in London.
“That’s the transnational oppression [Hong Kongers] have been afraid of and that is also the distrust which for some, if they want to join well-established expat Chinese groups in the UK, they wouldn’t be confident on whether they can tell their own their story, because some might be critical of the [CCP] regime and that’s exactly why they came to the UK.”
Mr Cheng said security is the most important concern for recent BN(O) visa holders.
“What’s happening in Manchester, those attackers, if they cannot be brought to justice, what next is China going to do? They will definitely go beyond that.
“London will be next.”
In her letter to community leaders, Deputy Mayor Weekes-Bernard said earlier this year a new Hong Kong forum was established with the Metropolitan Police.
“This group was established to listen to Kong Kongers’ concerns and improve the ways in which the Metropolitan Police address them.
“The Mayor’s London Hong Kong Integration Steering Group is another way in which we actively seek the community’s scrutiny of our work to welcome and support the integration of new arrivals.”