Australia Hong Kong residents seeking help to stay in Australia over fears of persecution under new national security law

19:13  18 february  2021
19:13  18 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a person standing in front of a store: Ms Chan says dozens of Hongkongers in Australia are ineligible for the Federal Government's special visa offer, but fear going back to the city. () © Provided by ABC NEWS Ms Chan says dozens of Hongkongers in Australia are ineligible for the Federal Government's special visa offer, but fear going back to the city. ()

A Hong Kong backpacker has called for help from the Australian government for dozens of temporary visa holders from the city, saying they are too "frightened" to go back to their hometown.

Emily Chan, 32, first arrived in Australia as an international student in 2013.

Recently, she has been desperately looking for an opportunity to obtain Canberra's offer of a special visa and permanent residency pathway for Hong Kong passport holders.

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Her push to resettle outside Hong Kong comes after China's decision to pass a controversial new national security law for the city.

Under it, crimes of secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and colluding with foreign countries, institutions, organisations and personnel could result in penalties of up to life in prison

That has resulted in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia extending offers of resettlement to residents of the global financial centre.

Ms Chan has been deeply concerned about being targeted and charged by the police under the national security law, were she to return to her hometown.

She joined activities in Australia supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and has helped explain the social movement to Australians publicly since 2019.

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"Many people supported protesters in different ways … but everyone has been frightened to go back to Hong Kong because we may get arrested," Ms Chan told the ABC.

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Along with the potential of obtaining a visa in Australia, the UK Government has also offered a five-year program that could grant British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders citizenship.

However, Ms Chan said most people in her group would prioritise Australia as their first choice for emigration.

"It's been eight years since I moved to Australia. I am now even becoming more familiar to Australians than [people in] Hong Kong," Ms Chan said.

The federal government said almost 14,000 Hongkongers in Australia would benefit from having their visa extended for up to five years, as part of their Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485).

Ms Chan, who had been granted the visa in 2014, wasn't eligible to apply for it again as the Department of Home Affairs will not grant the visa to any previous primary holders.

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"I feel helpless when I think about leaving this country, because I am not entitled to apply for it again in my life."

A spokesperson from the department told the ABC that Ms Chan might be granted a second Temporary Graduate Visa as a secondary applicant on another person’s application.

"The Australian Government, together with other governments around the world, has been very consistent in expressing concerns about the imposition of the National Security Law," the spokesperson said.

"[The Government] is troubled by the law’s implications for Hong Kong’s judicial independence, and the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong."

She went back home in June 2019, when the pro-democracy movement emerged on the streets of Hong Kong.

After spending three months in the city and joining the initial protests, she found a job on a farm in Tasmania on a working holiday visa.

However, in 2020, when COVID-19 hit businesses across the country, it led to months of job hunting for Ms Chan.

She went to New South Wales looking for work and eventually got an offer in a cafe in Coffs Harbour.

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Throughout her travels from Tasmania to NSW, Ms Chan said she was "very lucky" to be taken care of by many Australians who were concerned about her situation.

"They treat me like their family member and are concerned about my visa and future in this country," she said.

Seeking asylum is an option, but Ms Chan explained it would not be her priority because she did not want to be stigmatised as a refugee.

"I want to make my own effort to make a contribution to Australia, like what I have done in the past, rather than just seeking asylum here," she said.

Ms Chan was not alone in her thinking, with the provisional estimate of the Hong Kong population recording its biggest decline in a decade, according to the latest statistics from the city's Census and Statistics Department.

The report found 0.6 per cent of Hong Kong residents moved out of the city in 2020, making it the city's first population decline since 2009.

In a statement received by the ABC, the department said the decrease was largely due to a drop in the border control and quarantine measures in place in the city to contain the spread of COVID-19.

"Net movement, which includes the movement of Hong Kong residents into and out of Hong Kong for various purposes including work and study, is conceptually different from immigration and emigration," a spokesperson said.

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More protesters fled the city

While some Hongkongers in Australia and other countries have tried to find information about how they can stay, others back home are fleeing the city after the imposition of the national security law.

Glacier Kwong, a digital rights activist currently in Germany, fled in late July last year, two weeks after the government announced the law.

She said she feared returning to Hong Kong and knows she will never be able to go home again due to her petitions and lobbying activities, including calling on Berlin to impose sanctions against China.

"The activism that I'm doing would be considered as an infringement to the national security law and therefore, I will not be able to go back," Ms Kwong told the ABC.

"I would definitely be arrested the moment that I land in Hong Kong."

Born in 1996, Ms Kwong has been politically active since the age of 16, when she led a campaign for the digital rights and data protection of Hongkongers.

As the founder of Keyboard Frontline — a non-government organisation that advocates for human rights on the internet — she has been involved in both the Umbrella Movement and the pro-democracy movement since 2019.

Ms Kwong said some activists in Hong Kong did not want to leave the city because they were encouraging people to stay to fight for political changes in the future.

"Others are talking about leaving the city because they feel like there is no future, or they cannot act freely under the current political situation," she said.

"Most of them would prefer working on their own and contributing to society when they move to another place.

"One of their main concerns is if there are policies that would help them settle into the communities in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom."

The ABC has approached the Hong Kong Police Force and the Office of the Chief Executive for comment.

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