With Beijing’s passage of a security law for Hong Kong that specifically targets “actions and activities” deemed subversive, seditious, instigated by foreign forces, or supportive of independence, Hongkongers mull on self-exile.
At least 50 former Hong Kong protesters lodged asylum applications in Canada before the coronavirus pandemic ended most international travel, activists said.
Hundreds more have relocated to democratic Taiwan, which under President Tsai Ing-wen, has said it will try to accommodate Hong Kongers seeking to escape China’s tightening control.
The current trickle could become an exodus after Beijing’s National People’s Congress approved plans to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in response to the pro-democracy protests.
China says an anti-subversion law is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism”.
Opponents fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China by Britain.
Recently, the UK has said it will extend residency rights for 2.9 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National (Overseas) passports, including a possible pathway to citizenship.
The documents are only available to those born before the former colony’s 1997 handover. Which means younger residents — the vanguard of last year’s protests — must risk asylum instead.
The concept of a Hong Kong asylum seeker is somewhat untested — for decades the city was a place people fled to rather than from.
But there is one precedent.
Last year, Germany granted sanctuary to two independence activists wanted for their involvement in a violent protest in 2016.
It was the first time a western government decided Hong Kong dissidents were fleeing persecution and the move infuriated Beijing.
Canada has emerged as a favourite destination, aided by a network of activists who have helped people escape Beijing ever since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
“Canada is always a country that welcomes refugees,” said Martin, a member of the New Hong Kong Cultural Club which is currently helping 29 applicants.
“We believe there will be more Hongkongers seeking asylum in Canada because the Hong Kong situation is falling into chaos.”
But refugee claims could further strain already frosty ties with Beijing after Canada acted on a US arrest warrant for Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Taiwan also offers potential sanctuary closer to home, although it comes with caveats as the island has no refugee law so most Hongkongers must seek business and student visas.
Beijing also views the self-ruled island as its own territory, vowing to one day seize it, by force if necessary.
Last week, President Tsai created a task force to look into how it can better assist Hongkongers wanting to flee, a move that angered Beijing.
Xiao Hua, a 35-year-old registered nurse, worked as a medic during the early stage of the 2019 protests, has spent the last few months in Taiwan and is considering a full-time move.
“I feel Taiwan is a place where we can still voice our opinions freely,” she told AFP inside a restaurant in Taipei that finds employment for Hongkongers.
“It will be unbearable, to leave my family, my friends in Hong Kong. But freedom is a very important thing to me.” (Source: Bangkok Post)