London – Cindy had a comfortable lifestyle in Hong Kong: she owned several properties with her husband, had a good business. But last year she made up her mind to leave it all behind and take her family to Britain, and there was not even a global epidemic that she was going to make her decision.
“It is certainly not easy to extricate yourself in this way. But things had turned ugly last year, the government was really pushing us away, ”said Businesswoman and mother of two young children, who did not reveal her family name as she feared the consequences for speaking out against the Chinese government. “Everything we value – freedom of speech, fair elections, freedom – has been eroded. Now it is not Hong Kong that we used to know, it is no longer anywhere we can call home. “
Cindy, who landed in London last week, is one of thousands of Hong Kong people fleeing their hometowns since Beijing enacted a national security law in the region last summer.
Some are leaving because they fear punishment for pro-democracy protests. But many people like him say China’s encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable, and they want to seek a better future for their children abroad. Most say they never plan to return.
Many strengthened their exit plans after the UK announced in July that it would open a special immigration route for 5 million eligible Hong Kongers to live, work and eventually settle in Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that this week’s offer shows that Britain is honoring its “deep ties of history” with Hong Kong, a former colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with this understanding It was said that it would maintain its Western-style independence and much more. Political autonomy was not seen on mainland China.
The application for the British National Overseas Visa officially opens on Sunday, although many people like Wong have already arrived on British Earth to get a head start. Eligible Hong Kong can currently come to the UK for six months, but from Sunday they can apply for the right to live and work in the country for five years. After that, they can apply for settled status and then British citizenship.
The UK government said that since July, around 7,000 people with British National Overseas (BNO) status had arrived. It is estimated that more than 300,000 people will offer extended residency rights over the next five years.
Wong said she wanted to leave as soon as she feared Beijing would soon stop the exodus.
“The Chinese government has not ruled out this drastic strategy,” she said. “I think if they can start leaving thousands of young professionals, they can whip up, because it will definitely upset Hong Kong’s economy and they wouldn’t want to do that at all.”
Beijing said on Friday that it would no longer recognize the BNO passport as a travel document or identity, and criticized the offer of UK citizenship as a “seriously infringing” move on China’s sovereignty. It was unclear what impact the announcement would have as many Hong Kongers carry multiple passports.
Following massive anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing tightened its stand and put the city in a month of crisis. Since the security law came into force, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, and the movement’s young leaders have either been jailed or fled abroad.
Because the new law has broadly defined acts of sabotage, segregation, foreign collusion and terrorism, many in Hong Kong fear expressing any form of political protest – even posting messages on social media – Can get them into trouble.
The 39-year-old fan, who also came to London recently, said, “I think if you knew when to shut down, you’d be fine.” Like Wong, he did not want to give his full name. “But I don’t want to do that. I can complain about the queen if I wanted to – I can say anything here. “
An animator fan had sold his flat in Hong Kong and was planning to slowly build a new life in Britain – a country he had never seen before. He will not be alone in starting from scratch.
“It’s a very unique emigration wave – some people don’t really have time to travel to the country they’re migrating to. Many people have no experience of living abroad,” Miriam Lo, Joe runs a rehabilitation agency, Excelsior UK. “And because of the epidemic, they couldn’t even come to see a house before deciding to buy.”
The British government estimates that 2.9 million BNO status holders are eligible to move to the UK, and 2.3 million are eligible dependents. Britain introduced the BNO passport in the 1980s to those “citizens of the British Dependent Territory in relation to Hong Kong.” Until recently, passports had limited benefits because they did not give nationality or the right to live and work in Britain.
Businesswoman Cindy was still recovering from JetLag, but is excited about her future.
“We want to bring Hong Kong’s energy, our resources and our finances here,” she said. “This step is sure for our children. But we want to create a new life for ourselves here too. “