Sun, May 10, 2015 - Page 9 News List

‘Abandoned’ Hong Kong veterans go into battle with Britain

Against the backdrop of Beijing’s increasing influence in the territory, Hong Kongers who served in the British army are demanding the right to live in the UK

By Dennis Chong  /  AFP, HONG KONG

Neither did the consulate confirm how many recipients were serving military personnel in 1997. Those military personnel granted British passports were part of a 7,000-person quota reserved for the “disciplined services” class, which also included police officers and firefighters, the consulate said.

Before Britain gave the territory back to China in 1997, it offered Hong Kongers a special “British National Overseas” (BNO) status to calm those worried about their future under Beijing’s rule.

Holders can enter the UK without a visa and get consular assistance abroad, but have no right to live in Britain.

About 400,000 of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million residents hold the BNO passport and some are now calling on Britain to allow them residency as they seek to escape rising tensions.

Various campaign groups in Hong Kong are pushing Britain for citizenship status, but the military veterans say their claims carry more weight.

“We were trained to fight. We also took an oath to pay allegiance to the Queen. We could have died for the country if there was a war,” said former British Army infantry corporal Fung Lit-kau, who unsuccessfully applied for a British passport before the handover.

Fung said that he struggled to find a new career when he was forced to quit the military in 1997, 14 years into a 22-year contract, as the force was disbanded.

He finally became a postman in the US after migrating there — thanks to his sister-in-law being a resident — but regularly returns to Hong Kong and actively supports the campaign.

“They owe us an ethical responsibility. It is shameful for them to leave us behind,” Fung, 55, said.

The history of Hong Kong-born ethnic Chinese working for Britain’s military can be traced back to the 19th century, when they were hired to build military facilities and provide logistical support for British soldiers.

They were sent on overseas missions and defended the territory during World War II. In 1962, the Hong Kong Military Service Corps was formed, making personnel recruited in Hong Kong regular soldiers of the British Army.

Tommy Poon, 74, who became a driving instructor after spending 22 years in the Royal Corps of Transport, said Hong Kong military personnel should not be treated differently than others.

“The Gurkhas also have it [British nationality] now. Why can we not?” Poon asked, referring to a celebrity-backed movement that won the right for British soldiers from Nepal to settle in the UK.

Another veteran, who preferred not to be named, expressed bitterness at their fate.

“We guarded against China along metal barricades on the border [before the handover]. And now we are part of China... The situation is always going to be embarrassing for us,” he said.

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