Teen activist flees to the UK
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
How a Hong Kong protester became one of the territory's youngest exiles
“I was very worried about being caught at the airport," the teenager said. “But on the flight, I finally felt safer and the most relaxed in a long time.”
This interview first appeared online courtesy of NBC News, 18 April 2021. 
HONG KONG - For more than a year, the teenager's weekends were dominated by marches, during which she chanted protest slogans, built barricades and dodged tear gas shells, returning to her home in Hong Kong in the evenings covered in bruises and scratches.
As Beijing intensified its crackdown on pro-democracy lawmakers and students activists over the last year, however, participating in the protests became increasingly dangerous. And in December, the 15-year-old known to journalists and fellow protesters simply as "Aurora" boarded a plane to London, the ticket paid for by an anonymous Hong Kong activist.
The decision to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom has made her one of Hong Kong's youngest exiles.
"I was very worried about being caught at the airport for seeking asylum in the U.K.," the teen, who requested anonymity out of fear that her family would be punished because of her involvement in protests, told NBC News. "But on the flight, I finally felt safer and the most relaxed in a long time."
Hong Kong police were often seen to target young people, anywhere, anytime.
Her political awakening occurred in June 2019, after an estimated 1 million demonstrators took to the streets to protest an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents accused of offenses to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.
Three days later, on June 12, she and her classmates attended a second rally in a busy commercial district, which devolved into one of the most violent demonstrations Hong Kong has seen in decades. Police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and pepper spray at demonstrators. Some protestors attacked officers and hurled Molotov cocktails at them.
She said she was impressed by the activists' solidarity.
"I had always thought Hong Kongers are cold to each other, but their unity deeply moved me, and made me burst into tears," she said.
From then on, she became more politically engaged, reading the news everyday, and she formed close bonds with her fellow demonstrators.
"I feel like protesters are more like my family, and they understand me better than my own," said the teenager, who added that her mother disapproved of her daughter's activism. Her parents are divorced and she is estranged from her father.
Huge ensuing demonstrations were fueled by fears that residents were losing their rights and independent judicial system amid an erosion of the region's "one country, two systems" agreement set up when Britain handed its colony back to China in 1997.
Riot police detain a woman as protesters gather at Sha Tin Mass Rapid Transit Railway station on 25 September 2019.
On June 30 last year , a contentious national security law came into effect, which criminalizes actions Beijing considers to involve subversion, seccession, collusion with foreign forces or terrorism.
Arrests of pro-democracy lawmakers and student activists have become more frequent since the law was implemented.
In October , Tong Chung, 19, the former leader of a pro-independence student group, was arrested and became the first high-profile political figure to be charged under the national security law. If convicted, he faces a potential sentence of life in prison. More recently, in March , 47 pro-democracy politicians were arrested under the new law, the largest crackdown on the [democracy] movement to date.
On Friday, nine leading pro-democracy advocates were sentenced to jail for organizing a march during the 2019 protests that griggered a crackdown from Beijing.
The United States and other countries have slapped sanctions on Chinese officials over the crackdown in Hong Kong, with Washington labeling their actions an "assault on democracy."
Beijing has countered that its actions in Hong Kong defend its national sovereignty and has called on other countries to "stop interfering" in its domestic affairs.
Larry Lai, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, said that young protesters tended to want to leave Hong Kong mainly for security reasons.
"The national security law and how it is enforced justifies their worries," he said.
The U.K., in particular, has been an attractive destination, due to its close ties with Hong Kong. In July, it announced a new visa program providing a special pathway for British National Overseas, or BNO, passport holders to resettle in the country, with a fast-track to citizenship. Nearly 3 million Hong Kongers have been offered refuge and a possible path to U.K. citizenship, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in June.
This year, Beijing said it would no longer recognise BNO passports as valid.
But female refugees - particularly those who are underage - often have a more difficult time integrating into U.K. society and obtaining access to things, such as housing and financial support, according to Nando Sigona, chair of international migration and forced displacement and a professor specializing in migration at the University of Birmingham.
"Services and support are mostly geared towards single men and families," he said.
For now the teen is living with a family in London and spending her time reading and studying while her asylum application is pending. One day she hopes she can return home.
"I hope Hong Kong protesters don't give up," she said. "If you give up now, all our efforts go to waste."
By Chermaine Lee, with support from Salina Li
NBC, 18 April 2021
HK High School students take part in a 2019 early morning rally.
AN EXTRACT FROM August 2019 reporting by CNA:
A SAFE HAVEN OUTSIDE HONG KONG
Hong Kong migration specialists told CNA they have seen an increase in enquiries and sales since the protests began escalating in June, with the majority asking about Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand.
Andrew Lo, CEO of immigration agency Anlex Consultants, said migration enquiries have jumped 400 per cent since the massive protests began in June, with many people citing concern over the future of their children as a reason to relocate.
His agency, which was set up in 1992, currently receives about 50 queries a day.
Similarly, Australian lawyer and migration consultant Paul Bernadou said the number of Hong Kongers calling to ask for information about alternative residence has doubled over the past two months.
“There has always been an interest in migration by Hong Kong people looking for a better way of life for their children, educational opportunities, work and business, (or because of the) high cost of housing in Hong Kong,” said Mr Bernadou, who set up Paul Bernadou & Co in 1993.
“In the past, the lead-up to the handover, the financial crisis and SARS were all motivators. At the moment, they are more and more concerned about the political future of Hong Kong,” he said.
John Hu, founder and principal consultant of John Hu Migration Consulting, said his team has also seen double the number of enquiries, while sales have improved by 40 to 50 per cent.
The callers, said Mr Hu, “sound very determined”.
His company, which was set up about 10 years ago, charges between HK$50,000 (US$6,380) and HK$300,000 for migration packages, which include services from documentation to sourcing for lodging in the client’s country of choice.
And although Singapore is not top on the list of Hong Kongers’ choices, the ISS International School here said it has seen a 60 per cent increase in the number of enquiries from Hong Kong families since June compared to previous years.
On average, the school – which has about 600 students – takes in about one new Hong Kong student at the start of a new academic year. But the next intake will see four new students from the city, with several others waiting to confirm, said Mr Paul Adamberry, director of marketing communications and admissions at the international school.
“We expect this number to climb over the year,” said Mr Adamberry, adding that the enquiries have come from both Western and Cantonese families in Hong Kong.
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The NEW Hong Kong Charter
A place with freedom across the oceans
All adults are culpable : HK's murdered 5 year old daughter Chan Siu-lam
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