“Leaving a place that I love was very difficult. We’re all Hong Kong people who come out to protest because we love Hong Kong. But now we are forced to leave.”
*Jay* is a former Hong Kong resident who attended many of last year’s protests, including on the front lines.
He was arrested and charged with riot offenses, but fled the territory when he was being released on bail several months ago.
He is now among dozens of Hong Kong residents seeking political asylum in Australia, and he has no expectation of returning home.
“When I was taking the bus to the airport and was seeing the views of Hong Kong, I thought this might be the last view of Hong Kong I get, and I’ll never come back,” he said.
Jay left his family behind.
“We cried a lot,” he said of the moment he told them. “I used to speak with [my parents] every day, but now I arrange for them to contact me because I’m afraid when I call them the police will be in the house and will see I’m calling them.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said that his government was “prepared to step up and provide support” to the people of Hong Kong after Beijing enacted the national security legislation that criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
An editorial in Chinese state mouthpiece the Global Times has warned of “a huge negative impact” on Australia’s economy if the government crossed China’s “bottom line” and interfered in Hong Kong.
In the past, Australia has allocated portions of its humanitarian intake to one-off groups such as Syrian refugees, and it offered residency to the more than 42,000 Chinese students after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.
However, it is near impossible for Hong Kong residents to flee to Australia for the time being.
While many other countries have entry restrictions in place to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s are among the strictest, essentially banning the arrival of any non-resident.
Canada is similar, despite seeing an increase in the number of Hong Kongers seeking asylum.
“Until the travel restrictions are lifted from COVID, I can’t imagine how someone would manage to even board a flight at this point,” Toronto immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges told Reuters last week.
The restrictions mean that while many other protesters, like Jay, might want to leave Hong Kong, for the time being they cannot.
In June last year more than 1 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest against a proposed bill allowing extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland.
Wary of China’s opaque justice system and persecution of dissidents, people felt the risk to democracy and activists was so great they had to march. Soon after, 2 million people — a quarter of the population — protested again.
By the end of the year the protests would be smaller, but more frequent, more violent and more desperate, but focused.
The extradition bill would be withdrawn too late as the movement evolved to make five demands — “not one less,” as the slogan goes.
“A lot of the Hong Kong people, they just want a peaceful life,” Jay said. “They don’t want their life interrupted. So if the Hong Kong government had withdrawn the extradition bill early there would not be such a problem, but they didn’t, and then new issues, like police violence, and most importantly, the universal suffrage under one country two systems emerged.”
Since Jay, who is in his 20s, left Hong Kong the situation has deteriorated: A hardline police response and then the COVID-19 pandemic dampened the appetite to rally in large numbers, and last week the Chinese government imposed its draconian national security legislation.
Watching from afar, Jay describes the laws as “nonsense.”
“Because the articles are very broad, the definitions are difficult to divine, and it’s very suggestive. As long as the Hong Kong government and Beijing thinks you are violating things they can charge you,” he said.
Now Jay fears for his family who stayed behind.
“I am wanted in Hong Kong. Will the Hong Kong government and central government use my family to tell me to go back to Hong Kong?” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll use my family, use their safety. It may not happen, but I don’t know, so I am wary.”
*Jay’s* name has been changed to protect his identity.
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