Thu, Jan 22, 2015 - Page 5 News List

HK residents push UK for escape route

SAVING FACE:A Hong Kong professor said that Britain’s creation of the special ‘British National Overseas’ status was primarily to avoid a diplomatic rift with Beijing

AFP, HONG KONG

A woman and a child walk past banners of a pro-democracy protest site outside the British consulate in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

With Hong Kong increasingly polarized on political reforms and fears growing over the influence of Beijing, frustrated residents are pressing former colonial power Britain to offer them an escape route.

Their push for a new status that would allow them right of abode in Britain reflects their anger over what they see as a lack of support from the UK in their time of need. It follows more than two months of pro-democracy protests, which failed to win concessions from the government on the way the territory’s next leader is elected, and ties in with concerns that civil liberties are being chipped away.

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 Hong Kong residents hold a BNO passport and some are now calling on Britain to allow them residency as they seek to escape rising tensions.

“It is an extra option for Hong Kong people — it’s a right they deserve,” said Sampson Noble, a 30-year-old Hong Kong resident who runs the BritishHongKong campaign group.

“I was born British,” he added. “It should not relate to my ethnicity.”

The group’s forum has 3,000 members and has sent letters to British lawmakers, as well as a statement to a UK parliamentary inquiry into Hong Kong’s post-handover relationship with Britain.

In that statement the group called Britain’s stance “discriminative.”

“We were ruled for 156 years and we are being discriminated against,” said Humphrey Lau, a campaigner for the group.

“There is a feeling of being betrayed,” he added.

Popular Facebook page “BNO Concern,” which also calls for right of abode, has 6,000 likes with users dismissing their status as “rubbish” and pushing for change.

Twenty and 30-year-olds are particularly frustrated, political columnist Martin Oei (黃世澤) said.

“Young people are disappointed to see how Hong Kong is greatly affected by the ‘Chinese way,’” he said.

“People now want to think of a way out,” Oei said.

Before the handover, 50,000 selected Hong Kongers — mainly white-collar professionals and civil servants — were given British passports, but more than 3 million had to make do with BNO status.

Signing up was optional and the status can be held alongside a Chinese passport. Applying was only possible before the handover, but holders can renew their BNO every 10 years for about HK$1,000 (US$129).

For 33-year-old Peter, a pilot, renewing his BNO passport is a desperate measure.

“[It] is just like someone who is drowning would grasp whatever he can reach,” he told reporters, saying the recent democracy protests spurred him to renew the document.

The rallies were sparked by Beijing’s insistence that candidates in the territory’s 2017 leadership vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which critics dismiss as “fake democracy.”

Attacks on outspoken media figures and the arrests of protest leaders have added to fears that Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status is eroding.

Peter told reporters the failed protests proved “how we are ignored by our government and how helpless we Hong Kong people are.”

“The BNO passport may save me one day, when Hong Kong is no longer a place for us and we cannot call ourselves Hong Kong people anymore,” he added.

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