Hong Kong residents in Canada are banding together to assist the latest influx of migrants fleeing Beijing’s tightening grip on their city.
Networks across the country, some descended from groups formed in the aftermath of China’s 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, are offering newcomers everything from jobs and housing to legal and mental health services and even car rides to the grocery store.
Ho owns a cooking school near Toronto and claims to have hired a former aide to a Hong Kong democratic politician to promote his business online, as well as a new kitchen assistant who participated in the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Ho, who came to Canada as a teenager before Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, is just one of the people assisting the network of support groups that has formed in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton in the last two years.
It is not unusual for immigrants to look out for one another. However, people in Canada, which has one of the world’s largest overseas concentrations of Hong Kong residents, told Reuters that the situation is urgent because many of those they are attempting to assist fear being arrested for taking part in previous protests and may not be able to afford professional help to resettle overseas.
A year ago, Beijing imposed a broad national security law on Hong Kong, outlawing a wide range of political activities and effectively ending public protests. Many pro-democracy activists and politicians have been arrested under the new law or for protest-related offenses, including prominent Beijing critics Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai. Many people have already fled the area.
The Hong Kong government and China argue that the law is necessary to restore stability following the sometimes violent protests of 2019, and that it protects freedoms guaranteed by Beijing after Britain returned Hong Kong to China. Following the implementation of the national security law, the United Kingdom and Canada have become two of the most popular destinations for people fleeing Hong Kong.
According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, which cites government data, 34,000 people applied to live in Britain in the first two months after the country introduced a new fast-track to residency for Hong Kongers earlier this year.
According to the government, roughly one-fifth of that number applied for temporary and permanent residency in Canada in the first four months of this year. The total number of Hong Kongers traveling to Canada is likely higher, but it is difficult to track because many already have Canadian passports from earlier emigration. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents relocated there in the 1980s and 1990s, fearing they would lose their wealth and property, as well as much of their freedom, if Communist Party-ruled China regained control of the city.
However, the city prospered and retained freedoms not available in mainland China, so many Hong Kong residents returned home or maintained a foot in both countries. As China asserts its authority over Hong Kong, the latest wave of emigration appears to be permanent.
Following the implementation of the national security law last year, Canada relaxed its restrictions on admitting Hong Kong residents. It established a new work visa program aimed primarily at young Hong Kongers who have received a degree or diploma from a post-secondary institution within the last five years, as well as two paths to permanent residency for Hong Kongers in Canada who have recently worked or completed post-secondary studies in the country.
The new coronavirus has made things more difficult for newcomers. Even those who have obtained permission to live and work in Canada through the new program are only permitted to enter the country if they have a job offer, according to Canada’s most recent travel restrictions. That’s where the support system comes in. According to Eric Li, co-founder of the Toronto Hong Kong Parent Group and former president of the Canada-Hong Kong Link, a rights advocacy organization founded in 1997, the group has so far assisted 40 people, half of whom have already received three-year permits.
The Toronto group also has interpreters, lawyers, and psychotherapists on hand to assist new arrivals, and it has 10 rooms available for free, temporary housing. The rooms are in the homes of the members or their friends.