Hong Kong Migrants Seek Fresh Start in U.K. After Crackdown

LONDON — Lin Kwong had a great life in Hong Kong. She taught sports activities administration half time at a university and chaired an beginner drama membership. Her younger son, Chee Yin, was doted on by his grandparents. She had mates and favourite eating places. But in February, she made the troublesome determination to depart all of it behind.

“Nothing is as difficult as staying in a city that is lacking freedom,” she mentioned.

In the 12 months since China imposed a sweeping nationwide safety legislation on its territory of Hong Kong, a former British colony, tens of hundreds of individuals have made plans to depart the town. And like Ms. Kwong, many are headed for Britain, the place holders of British National Overseas (B.N.O.) passports have been given a pathway to work and citizenship. In the primary quarter of the 12 months, 34,300 folks utilized for the particular visa, based on Britain’s immigration division.

Now in London, Ms. Kwong has spent weeks wrangling with electrical energy suppliers, looking for a job and discovering a faculty for her son. But she and others who’ve left Hong Kong say they really feel much less like refugees than trailblazers, keen to construct a brand new dwelling after watching their previous one remodel underneath Beijing.

Hong Kong migrants who’ve moved to Britain attempt to help one another by internet hosting and organizing occasions, equivalent to hikes, the place they will meet different migrants and focus on the method of settling into British society.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

Ms. Kwong, 41, made up her thoughts to use for the brand new B.N.O. visa program instantly after it was introduced, and is hoping to assist others via the method of beginning over. “I always tell my friends, ‘I’m there, and when I settle down, I will help you as well,’” she mentioned. For her, the explanations to depart had been clear.

In simply 12 months, the nationwide safety legislation has seeped into practically each facet of each day life in the town, from newspapers and bookstores to the legislature and colleges. Activists who publicly supported the 2019 pro-democracy protests have fled the town, some making use of for asylum in Britain. Families are splitting up so their youngsters can have an training abroad. For younger professionals, the prospect of higher job alternatives beckons.

Upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong was promised 50 years of self-administration. The nationwide safety legislation reduce that point brief, prompting the British authorities to permit practically three million folks from Hong Kong to reside and work in Britain via the particular visa program. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as one of many greatest adjustments in visa rules in British historical past.

Lin Kwong, from Hong Kong, in her new house in London. Ms. Kwong moved together with her son underneath a visa program provided by the British authorities.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

In January, China introduced that it could now not acknowledge sure British journey paperwork, complicating efforts to depart the town.

Ms. Kwong mentioned one of many causes she made the choice to depart so rapidly was as a result of she didn’t wish to have to inform her son to observe what he mentioned in public in Hong Kong. “I don’t want him at that early age to know you can speak up at home but don’t say anything in the community or school,” she mentioned. “I don’t want him to grow up like this.”

Ms. Kwong doesn’t anticipate to show at a university in London, and is looking for administrative jobs in increased training as an alternative. If that proves too troublesome, a job in hospitality will do; she says buying and selling her former skilled life for a brand new one in London was price it.

Not everybody in Hong Kong has that luxurious. Some lack entry to B.N.O. passports, and others can’t afford to relocate. “They don’t have a credit history. They don’t have stable employment yet,” mentioned Terry Leung, co-founder of Justitia Hong Kong, a company that helps newcomers adapt to London and organizes pro-democracy protests and different occasions in the town.

A stall in Hong Kong the place folks can get their images taken for British National Overseas passports.Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

Mr. Leung’s group is a part of a wave of grass-roots organizations, largely run by extra established immigrants, that assist Hong Kongers discover one another in their new dwelling. There are sightseeing excursions, orientation classes on the National Health Service and volunteer alternatives for many who wish to achieve work expertise.

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On a heat May afternoon, dozens of Hong Kongers met for the primary time throughout a hike alongside the English countryside organized by Justitia Hong Kong and the British Chinese Society. British officers have additionally mentioned they’ll allocate $50 million towards serving to Hong Kongers combine, a process made particularly difficult by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s really hard during a pandemic for newcomers to find new friends,” mentioned James Wong, 29, an asylum seeker who fled to London final July. That feeling of isolation led him to begin Hong Kong Link Up, a program that pairs new arrivals from Hong Kong with native British residents to advertise cultural trade. Hong Kongers in Britain, one other group, has deliberate strolling excursions in London.

The British Airways counter at Hong Kong International Airport final month. In the primary quarter of the 12 months, 34,300 folks utilized for a particular immigration visa for Britain.Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

Some migrants have additionally arrange teams on the encrypted messaging service Signal to privately focus on extra delicate topics. Among their considerations is the concern that they are going to be seen as taking the roles of Britons at a time when the financial system has suffered from the pandemic, in addition to the rising variety of anti-Asian hate crimes inside the diaspora.

Many have braced themselves for a doable backlash in their new dwelling. Articles have begun to look in some British newspapers about Hong Kong immigrants shopping for up properties and filling areas at non-public colleges. In group chats, Ms. Kwong mentioned she and others typically remind one another: “Don’t bother the British too much. Don’t request too much.”

How the federal government handles these points will likely be important, mentioned Steven Tsang, director of the China Institute on the School of Oriental and African Studies. As extra Hong Kongers transfer into huge cities like London, “it means you will be pushing people out and pushing property prices up. It means you’re putting pressure on the schools,” he mentioned.

Ms. Kwong’s mother and father at dwelling with considered one of their grandsons in Hong Kong in June. Ms. Kwong’s transfer to Britain was so sudden it caught her father off guard.Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

With time passing, the times have lastly settled right into a routine for Ms. Kwong. In the mornings, she makes Hong Kong milk tea from leaves and cups she introduced together with her from dwelling. When her son is dwelling from boarding faculty, they make char siu, or barbecue pork, collectively.

Thoughts of the household and mates she left behind are by no means too distant. Ms. Kwong typically posts on social media, wanting to indicate the advantages of life in Britain. At a memorial in London final month on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square bloodbath, she posted a photograph of a lit candle. In Hong Kong, the long-running annual vigil had been banned.

At a protest in London on June 12, a whole lot of Hong Kongers marched via the town middle chanting “Fight for freedom!” and “Stand with Hong Kong!” Organizers wore masks with a Union Jack sample, and sang “God Save the Queen.”

For the relations left behind, the separations introduced on by the departures are bittersweet. Ms. Kwong’s transfer was so sudden that her father, Kwong Sing-ng, mentioned he was caught off guard. “I couldn’t bear to see them go,” he mentioned of his daughter and grandson. He had all the time recognized that his daughter would ship her son abroad someday for varsity, he mentioned. But “I didn’t expect it to be so soon.”

Hong Kong migrants having fun with the English countryside in May. Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

Tiffany May contributed reporting from Hong Kong.