The one-way ticket to starting a new life

After the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, lots of Hong Kongers have embarked on a one-way trip and settled elsewhere.

Standing in front of the departure hall, people pull heavy luggage full of lifetime belongings, waving goodbye to friends for one last time, people hugging and hearing weeping sounds, sighing and looking down at their passports, it is time to move on. This is what is happening at Hong Kong International Airport every day.

China’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong has set off the biggest emigration wave since the handover in 1997, as Beijing takes full control of the Asian financial centre. Many countries including Canada, the US, the UK and Australia have offered immigration pathways specifically for Hong Kongers. Vancouver has been a base of Chinese immigration since the 1980s and 1990s, and it continues to be the new home for many emigrating Hong Kong residents today. Three former Hong Kong residents who emigrated to Vancouver people spoke to 8forty to explain their views on Hong Kong’s emigration wave and future.

In February 2019, the government of Hong Kong published The Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill on Extradition in response to the murder of a Hong Kong resident by her boyfriend when the two of them were travelling in Taiwan. However the bill also allowed the Chief Executive of Hong Kong to approve any extradition requests from mainland China. Since the Chinese government has had a history of detaining Hong Kongers for political reasons, including the “Causeway Bay Books disappearances” and “the detaination of Simon Cheng,” the inclusion of mainland China in the amendment raised concerns.

In response, Hong Kongers were resentful and worried, leading to the protest movement in March 2019 and a wave of emigration out of Hong Kong. 

After three years,  Hong Kongers have scattered across countries including Canada, America, Japan and the United Kingdom. The individuals who spoke to 8forty for this article say that the situation in Hong Kong is frustrating. 

Nigel, a high school student from Hong Kong marched in many of the protests that happened in 2019. “The scene of seeing people beaten by police and pepper sprayed left a deep impression on me.” 

Nigel says that he felt fearful and insecure. With the arrest of protesters, journalists and politicians, the idea of immigrating germinated in his mind. With the support of his family,  they eventually moved to Vancouver last summer. “I will stay here for my entire life or move to the U.S. but not back to Hong Kong,” he added. 

Emily, who used to have a stable job at a financial firm in Hong Kong, arrived in Vancouver last Winter. “This is a hard decision. I had to give up everything I built up, my home, my friends, and my family members. Even so, I prioritized my own safety.” 

The situation in Hong Kong made her feel suffocated, she says. “I felt the atmosphere was so intimidating.”  She told 8forty that she believes most Hong Kongers feel the same. “Lots of people surrounding me are in the process of applying for citizenship in other places and planning to arrive there as soon as possible,” she said.

The events in Hong Kong have changed how Emily feels about her hometown. “I can no longer trust the government of Hong Kong. Honestly, I do not have any hope in them anymore since the moment they enacted the national security law, and so does in the future,” she sighed.  

“I am not sure what Hong Kong’s society will become and what the next step of the government will be in the future”, she added. Hence, she believes the trend of people leaving Hong Kong will continue.  

Carol, who is in her early 50s, told 8forty she agreed with her point and thinks the exodus of Hong Kong people is an ongoing event. “We are under the political trauma that is not allowing us to breathe. People will emigrate in the ensuing years ultimately,” she said. “The population of Hong Kong will decline simultaneously. Every time an emigration wave happens in Hong Kong, it is driven by some kind of political issue caused by communist China.”

Numbers released by Hong Kongs’s census department, show that 113,200 residents left Hong Kong in 12 months. 

“We really love Hong Kong, but we have no choice. We have to embark on this one-way trip,” said Carol.

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