Hongkongers Line up to Flee Their City Amid China's Crackdown on Dissent

Hundreds of people line up to board flights out of the city on the anniversary of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
Hongkongers Line up to Flee Their City Amid China's Crackdown on Dissent Family members say goodbye as hundreds line up in Hong Kong's international airport to leave the city for good, July 1, 2021.

One year after a draconian national security law took effect in Hong Kong, launching a citywide crackdown on political opposition and peaceful dissent, hundreds of people were lining up at the airport to leave their home for good.

In scenes reminiscent of people lining up to leave ahead of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, young families, and older citizens alike told RFA they were heading to make new lives elsewhere, many of them in the U.K.

Grief at many partings seemed to hang in the air of the departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport, with many taking final photos before saying goodbye to friends and family members, some holding each other in a final embrace, tears visible on their cheeks.

A woman in her twenties who gave only the surname Lee wept as she told RFA that she was heading to the U.K. to take advantage of a visa scheme for holders of the British National Overseas (BNO) passport, extended by London after the extent of the crackdown under the national security law became clear.

"I really don't want to go: there are so many things I don't want to leave behind," she said. "Hong Kong, my family, my friends."

But she said the increasingly oppressive political atmosphere had forced her to make the move.

"All the things that have happened in the past few months, just make me feel powerless: I can't bear to watch the news," she said.

A family of four, who requested anonymity, said they were leaving in a state of high anxiety.

"The most important thing to do next is find somewhere to live," one of them told RFA. "Yes, I'm upset, but I'm afraid it can't be helped."

"I fear we may encounter discrimination when we get to the U.K., and I am also worried about finding schools for the kids," they said.

A Hong Kong resident surnamed Chan said he had first started planning his exit 18 months ago, because the new environment made him feel "uneasy."

A former civil servant who declined to be named said he wanted a better environment in which to raise his kids, and had made the decision to leave six months ago.

"I don't think I have too much to worry about," he said. "I am mentally prepared [for any difficulties]."

Emigration fever has been mounting in recent months, with applications to police for certificates of no criminal record, a prerequisite for many immigration applications, rising to more than 15,000 in the first few months of this year.

A recent Bloomberg research report estimated that between 13,100 and 16,300 families will move to the U.K. on BNO passports this year.

Many of those who leave cite fears of political brainwashing in the city's schools, after the authorities imposed "national security education" on schools and effectively abolished a critical-thinking program known as Liberal Studies.

Reported by Cheng Yut Yiu, Gigi Lee and Matt Chan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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