Hongkongers fleeing China’s crackdown on democracy face battle to settle in London

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Hongkongers fleeing to London have told of struggles to resettle, flashbacks and culture shock as they escape China’s crackdown on democracy.

Almost 35,000 Hong Kong people have applied for British National Overseas (BNO) status from January through to March 31.

There has been an influx of arrivals since the new National Security Law (NSL) was introduced last June, widespread crackdown and dozens of arrests.

But the transition to London is not always smooth.

People as young as 15 are reported to be suffering from PTSD when they arrive in the capital, according to UK community groups.

“The situation in Hong Kong was so unbearable and so urgent that people have had to leave,” said Jabez Lam, 65, who manages HCCS.

Many Hongkongers in London are facing difficulties such as lack of credit history for housing, no local experience for job hunting, a mismatch across education systems, culture shock and language barriers, according to one organisation.

Simon Cheng, founder of Hongkongers in Britain, added: “Some issues are quite unique for this group, not only the homesickness and concern to be racially attacked, but also the persistent and legitimate fear of being under CCP’s surveillance for further retaliation.

“As the National Security Law (NSL) goes beyond the Chinese border, their traumatic experiences due to the CCP’s suppression exacerbates that mentality.”

The UK government introduced the BNO visa in January. The five year visa means BNOs and dependent family members can live, work and study in the UK, and have a route to permanent settlement and British citizenship.

However, young people, born after 1997, are not eligible and are therefore the most vulnerable, according to community groups who say they are instead seeking asylum.

A new life in London

One Hongkonger, who fled to London last July, described life in Hong Kong under the new security law as “no law, no rule and no justice”.

The woman, who requested anonymity, said: “I saw young people being beaten, caught and charged for ridiculous reasons.

“As long as the government or an official says you are guilty, then you are guilty. You never know when you might become a victim of the law.

“Leaving Hong Kong, I felt angry at the government that kept exploiting Hong Kong people’s rights and social welfare.

“When people protested peacefully against the government’s injustice, they beat them.

“I didn’t make a plan. I just bought the ticket, said goodbye to my parents and then flew all within one week.

“Now I feel sad that my home has been destroyed by the monster, guilty for leaving my people behind and hopeless like I couldn’t do anything to help.

“I am confused and worried about tomorrow.”

The woman explained that the UK seemed “her only option” as a BNO status holder.

Despite Boris Johnson’s assurance last year that Hong Kong citizens are welcome, she said the process has been a constant struggle with limited help from the Home Office.

“I chose London because it is the capital and I thought it might be easier to get a job,” she continued.

“But I have had to move to several places during the last ten months. I had to wait almost four months to get my visa approved and there is no response from the Home Office when you call for help.

“In job interviews, I have been told I am overqualified for admin or grassroots posts while people think I am native with no local experience for roles relating to my profession.”

My heart is aching for my homeland and my people

She added: “I am heartbroken. To be truthful, I feel like I never left Hong Kong. From the day I arrived, I’ve never stopped reading the news there. It is the first thing and the last thing I do each day.

“I still feel raged at the government, the bad people and the crackdown on democracy, the ongoing issue regarding Apple Daily and the innocent people who are prosecuted under the NSL.”

A Home Office spokesman said they could not comment on individual cases with details but the new visa route “reflects the UK’s historic and moral commitment to those people of Hong Kong who chose to retain their ties to the UK by taking up BN(O) status”.

“It is an unprecedented and generous offer reflecting our deep connection with Hong Kong. It is already a success, and as of 31 March, approximately 34,300 BN(O) status holders and their family members have applied for the route since it opened in January.

“We aim to process applications within 12 weeks.”

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