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Britain betrays Hong Kong activists Democracy protestors languish in our asylum system

He deserves better (DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images)


December 6, 2021   4 mins

When, last July, the Government responded to China’s draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong with a new visa scheme, it was rightly applauded for — eventually — doing the right thing. It offered a lifeline to three million Hong Kongers holding British National Overseas (BNO) status and born before 1997, along with their dependents. So far, 90,000 Hong Kongers have taken up the offer.

There is, however, one group of people who are not helped by the scheme, and yet are among those most vulnerable and in need of sanctuary: those activists born after 1997. Yet these are the people most in need of protection: 93% of those who have been arrested, charged and tried for involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy protests are under the age of 25.

If they have one parent with BNO status, current rules allow them to come to the UK, but only with their parent. For many, this is not possible. Often the parents don’t want to leave — either because their political views are different from their children’s and they back the pro-Beijing establishment, or simply because they don’t want the upheaval of fleeing their home city. And so for those young people who need to escape Hong Kong to Britain, or face years in jail, their only option is asylum.

There are currently about 200 young Hong Kongers in this situation in the UK today, many of whom are dealing with the trauma of police brutality in Hong Kong and their new plight here. Separated from their families and often with little adult support or oversight, they have escaped arrest and prison but are yet to find freedom. Some are accommodated in bleak hotels, where meals consist of a daily and unvaried diet of curry, with no thought to their own cultural preferences. Anecdotally, there are concerns that the toll on their mental health, combined with the inevitable financial challenges that await them, may lead some to drugs, suicide or crime.

But it doesn’t have to be this way; there is a solution which is sensible, logical and does not add anything to the numbers. Former Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, who once served as an immigration minister, has tabled an amendment to the Borders and Nationality Bill which is designed to close a loophole. Simply put, it would allow those between the ages of 18-24 who have at least one parent with BNO status to claim that status in the UK without being accompanied by their parent. This adds no extra burden in terms of immigration numbers, because they are already factored in as dependents. It would also ease the burden on the asylum system. And, more importantly, it would enable a relatively small number of brave young activists to study, work and build a new future for themselves in freedom.

Nathan Law knows this well. He was elected as the youngest legislator in Hong Kong in 2016, disqualified from the legislature by Beijing a year later and sentenced to eight months in jail. Fortunately, he was granted asylum in the UK earlier this year. As he wrote in a recent joint letter sent to the Home Secretary: “The Chinese Government’s actions every day show their contempt for [the Sino-British Joint Declaration] with Britain. One simple, humanitarian response the UK can take is to rationalise the BNO policy and offer a lifeline to the young democrats who need it most.”

The amendment already has the support of some eminent politicians, from the Tories such as Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox to Labour MPs Select Committee Chairs Stephen Timms and Sarah Champion. And yet I fear the Government may come up with a variety of arguments to try to quash a growing rebellion on its own benches.

If that does happen, they’ll likely say that the UK is being generous enough already. But that’s simply not true: there is a gaping hole in the BNO visa scheme which hangs those born after 1997 out to dry. Or they might point to other paths open to young people, such as the youth mobility scheme, but this only has 1,000 places a year and applications must be made outside the UK, so it is no use to someone who needs to escape Hong Kong urgently or has already left. Or the Government might argue that it would lead to unaccompanied minors moving to the UK. But this is nonsense. The amendment is targeted at those aged 18-24, and safeguards could be put in place regarding age, health and security background checks. Nor would it breach the Sino-British Joint Declaration, because it does not re-open registration, it merely allows young people already eligible to apply independently of their parents.

Ultimately, though, this amendment can’t be reduced to technical justifications; what it really comes down to is whether or not we’re happy to do nothing while brave young activists are placed in danger. At a university in the north of England last week, I met several Hong Kongers who were fearful of what would happen to them once they graduate, if they are forced to return to Hong Kong. They explained how they are in exactly the situation this amendment is designed to help — they have BNO parents who do not plan to take up the BNO scheme, and so would be forced to choose between returning to a city stripped of all its freedoms or claim asylum. Are those really the options we want to offer bright young Hong Kong graduates with degrees from some of the best universities in the world?

Most of my friends in Hong Kong are now in prison. I don’t want to see any more of them behind bars. But nor do I want to see them languishing in our asylum system.


Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. As East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, he specialises in Burma, Indonesia, China and North Korea.

benedictrogers

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Jim Nichols
Jim Nichols
2 years ago

Does anyone know if there are any organisations helping the Hong Kongers in the UK who are in this position? It would be good to know if there is a practical way we can support these young people.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Nichols

Maybe start by asking around in your local community? I was thinking that the local community may possibly have some links.
I wish you much luck, we have a young Chinese friend who has simply disappeared off the radar. No word to anyone who knew her, work colleagues or friends. We just pray she is alive and well.

Frederick B
Frederick B
2 years ago

Love the headline: “Britain betrays Hong Kong activists”. The only people betrayed by this endless urge to bring people here from every corner of the world are the native British.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Frederick B

Excellent point! Re the US Afghanistan exit debacle, much was said about how much “we” owed “the Afghan people,” especially the ones who “helped” us. Maybe they were traitors to their country, just as the Vietnamese who licked the boots of the Americans were–arguably–traitors the their country.
One letter in the WSJ made this point–I wish it had been me. He wrote, in substance, that what “we” owe them (people who helped US forces) depends entirely on whether we were there to help them or they were there to help us!”

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

There had been, as in Korea, two internationally recognised states in Vietnam, so those in the South fleeing the invasion by an appalling communist dictatorship in the North, were hardly ‘traitors to their own country’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

With respect, I sort of disagree. I believe that these were, and in the case of Korea still are, artificial distinctions simply made up out of thin air. The 38th Parallel was put on the map by some VERY junior officers one day–for no real apparent reason. Can’t remember how the division of Vietnam came about exactly but I suspect it was done in a similar manner.
Same in the Middle East, where random Brits seemed to draw up the maps–Al Murray skewers this perfectly–and guess what–Saddam was right to say that Kuwait really was the 19th Province of Iraq.
I have read and believe that Ho Chi Min was the greatest Vietnamese patriot. If, for the sake of argument, this is correct, is there an argument to be made that those who worked against him–and against the occupation of Vietnam by foreign invaders, first the French, then the Americans, later the Chinese (actually Vietnam’s historical enemy, so both before and after) were traitors? Stated another way, I believe that “Vietnam” was and is one country, one people, and that any temporary divisions were meant to be temporary and illegitimate. Same with Korea: one nation, one language, one people, despite this temporary and arbitrary division. Will it be divided in 100 years? 500?
With respect, I would welcome your thoughts on this. Perhaps I need to be educated.

Last edited 2 years ago by James Joyce
John Schofield
John Schofield
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Doesn’t this assume the principle ‘my country right or wrong’? If you re-frame the discussion as ‘pro-communist v anti-communist’, ‘pro-islamist v anti-islamist’ then I think it’s easier to sympathise with those who seek refuge from Communist and Islamist regimes and who sided with the West in fighting against them.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  John Schofield

I hope not! I am not in the “my country right or wrong camp” and never was. I’m in favor of small government, no wars of choice, etc.–a long list. If Vietnam wants to be communist, OK, not in the interests of the US. Let’s trade with them, not attack them, keep an arms length relationship.
Let’s take Pakistan. They are the enemy of the West, playing a double game since forever. They are not on side. I’m against any “friendship” with the Pakistanis. The main thing is to ring fence them, keep them away from the West, and take ZERO immigrants from this enemy country.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

Take the ideology out of it. Are a relatively small number of well educated young native Chinese speakers, with good reason to hate the CCP, likely to be positive immigrants?

For me the answer’s yes so sort the loophole out and claim the “humanitarian” kudos.

Realpolitik- a completely amoral calculus based on economic or political gain. If you can make it look humanitarian, for a laugh at the MSMs expense, why not?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

When you read that someone is a “human rights activist” understand that he is a glamour neo-colonizer, who aims to westernize the whole world, even the Middle Empire. A sizeable challenge, in view of the history. As a French lawyer calls them “the preachers without faith”. Human rights are the secular version of the Christianity. May people understand that.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

Sure, if you like, but when you proclaim this kind of thought from a comfy armchair while you watch other people get beaten up and jailed over being able to air their thoughts as freely as you, your point seems academic.

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

I’m pretty sure you’ve never fought an enemy, you’ve never been drafted to defend your country, you’ve never seen a friend injured by an enemy bullet. I do, so please calm down.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

And at the age of 21 you have fought in many wars?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

One. I promise you that it suffices.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

Why is this relevant>?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

It’s not. It’s only an answer.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

I sort of agree with you in that you don’t need to have any real experience of life to be a ‘human rights activist’. You just have to sit behind a computer and say, ‘I am a human rights activist.’

But the opposite is also true isn’t it. To be an anti-human rights activist you just have to sit behind a computer and say…..

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I am not an anti-human rights activist, I just think that all these organizations are hindering the normal life of nations and giving false hope to many people. In China you have to be Chinese. Hong Kong was an abnormal extension of British colonization. Don’t get me wrong: neither colonialism nor brutal Chinese interventions should be denounced, they are normal manifestations of the life of nations, because in reality the only matter of nations is their interests, and it’s as eternal as normal. Any activist will not manage to change this.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

Activists sadly know that they are fighting a losing battle in Hong Kong, so how much of a colonialist project can this really be? People on the ground have just been standing up for what they believe is right, even if it’s all been hopeless, and trying to preserve a piece of their unique culture and heritage that will otherwise be swallowed up. The best hope of this for many is now to flee. That’s extremely sad for those people and my heart breaks for them. I think it’s in poor taste for you denigrate their efforts -which have come at considerable cost – as part of some colonialism project. Even being a keyboard warrior in Hong Kong is not safe. I’m not sure what you having fought in a war has to do with it?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

It’s not a colonialism project it’s a colonialist reflex. If it’s a losing battle why not to use this efforts and money to an useful endeavour. 
 “I’m not sure what you having fought in a war has to do with it?”
It has to do with the fact that I’m not someone who “proclaim this kind of thought from a comfy armchair while you watch other people get beaten up and jailed over being able to air their thoughts as freely as you, your point seems academic.”
We have probably irreconcilable conceptions of international relations. You are idealist, I’m realist. 

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

It doesn’t seem like you are typing this from the battlefield though.

It’s not useless to grant refuge to people who are looking for help.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

I’m not quite sure I understand the comments and the commentators here. On the one hand, I agree with Charles Mimoun that so-called “human rights activists” seem to have a single solution in mind to every human rights problem: bring them, in massive numbers, to the West. I completely disagree.
With respect to HK, I agree that it is a weird system that I, as a Yank, don’t fully understand, with BNO documents (second class citizens?), etc. BUT, if all the dissidents are removed to the UK, doesn’t that help China? Instead of exploding, steam is being released, right?
I view China as the enemy. I view China as a threat to the West in just about ever sense–militarily, economically (2 types of Chinese at Western unis: enemy agents and future enemy agents–their industrial espionage is beyond massive), and technologically, i.e. Huawei. The West must realize that it is at war with China–maybe it is hybrid war as is the case with Russia on the Polish border, but it is war nonetheless.
Perhaps it’s better for dissidents to remain in HK so it really does blow up. One way of looking at it: what is the worst result for China? That should be the question, not the comfort of a small number of individual dissidents.

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I totally agree.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

Great minds….

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

BNOs similar to Puerto Ricans. Citizens of but not automatically entitled to free movement in/to UK/USA.

Last edited 2 years ago by Doug Pingel
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Not correct, in that Puerto Ricans can go anywhere they want in the US at any time. Those who remain on the island can’t vote in presidential elections or something, but freedom of movement to the US is guaranteed. That is why some invaders go to Puerto Rico–once there, they are home free.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

When was the “14th Amendment” applied to PR?

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I don’t have an answer to this particular question, but I am right about travel. Wanna bet?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Maybe it has just “happened” in spite of the law. Happy to take your word for it. Your description of certain ‘incomers’ as Invaders is good.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I think that the USA is at war with China but I don’t think it is exactly the same with the west in general. The USA sees itself as the centre of world freedom but all the news I see from the USA is bad news.
In order to get back the idea that the US must be top of the tree, the politicians will start wars everywhere – they can only fight manufacturing dominance with nuclear weapons – otherwise the US is finished.

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I agree. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea for European countries to adopt a neutral stance toward China because if the USA are “finished” as you say, it’s also the end of many European liberal countries which don’t have the means to defend by themselves their culture of freedom against China’s soft and hard power. 

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I’m not sure where you started following this story but perhaps it was quite recently. Despite brave and exceptionally well organised efforts, realistically the “dissidents” are not be able to do much from within Hong Kong/China, which has really exceptional and frightening capabilities to suppress dissent. You’ve sort of alluded to those capabilities – but then you’ve kind of forgotten about them at the same time. We have already been through the part where the situation in HK “blew up” and that’s partly what brought things to this point, with some help from external factors like the pandemic. China is not happy about what the UK is doing at all in offering a path to citizenship. It is considered meddling and an affront. We are unfortunately very powerless in this situation but the least some people feel we can do is extend a hand of friendship to those who would take it.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

I started following the story when the Union Jack came down some years ago. I completely sympathize with HK people–good luck–and I am sort of in favor of HK exploding–meaning that China invade to show how truly evil it is. There is a letter in today’s Wall Street Journal threatening the newspaper because it encouraged people to cast a blank ballot.
Good luck to HK people, but 1. the West should not bring activists out, and 2. the US should not defend HK, Taiwan, Ukraine, etc. This is not “our” problem, and we have a different tradition, different relationship, different interests from the UK in HK. If the UK wants to defend HK, give it a go.
I put America first.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

There is no reason why China would “invade” HK as it is part of China. There is also, not that it’s applicable, no way in which the UK can “defend” HK. As I said, we are totally powerless in that regard. It’s a life raft situation.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Cynic that I am, I think that though the system is far from perfect, better to be alive in the safety of asylum centres than dead on the streets of Hong Kong.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

It’s better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. Or is it the other way around?
Tank man? Patriot or fool?

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Not too sure that the Chinese authorities give one a choice.

gavin.thomas
gavin.thomas
2 years ago

Let’s be clear – anyone in their right mind would have known that the CCP would ignore the 1997 hand-back agreement. It is naive to think the CCP would do otherwise.
So, anyone having children in HK after 1997 must have known that they would be brought up under an authoritarian communist regime.
Why then, should these children be given political asylum in the UK?
And if they are, where does it end? Would a child born in Hong Kong today be eligible for asylum in the UK under the same principle?
What if the CCP forbid it?
Allowing dissidents to flee persecution prolongs the inevitable collapse of the regime. It is their battle, not ours.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  gavin.thomas

Bravo! Well said!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago

Most other Commonwealth citizens do not have British passports. I was issued with a British passport in Malta while serving in the Royal Navy (we didn’t need passports on Trooping Flights, Britannias in those days). 10 years later when my passport renewal came up it was lucky for me that I lived 4 miles from a passport office – there was a lot of bother.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago

The creation of this scheme relates to a specific situation. HK hasn’t even been part of the Commonwealth for over 2 decades now. But yes, there should be more ways for other groups to live and work in the UK.