Britain on Sunday begins accepting purposes for a program that expands the rights of BN(O) holders, permitting them and their households to stay and work in Britain and ultimately search citizenship. Some 5.4 million of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million persons are eligible, elevating the prospect of a mass exodus.
Britain moved to open its doorways after China imposed a sweeping nationwide safety regulation on Hong Kong, sharply curbing political rights, which London stated was a transparent breach of the handover settlement. Human rights advocates say authorities are utilizing the brand new powers to goal democracy activists and authorities critics.
On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated he was “immensely proud” of his nation’s “dedication to the individuals of Hong Kong.”
“We’ve stood up for freedom and autonomy — values each the U.Ok. and Hong Kong maintain pricey,” he stated.
Chinese language Overseas Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded by saying China would not acknowledge the BN(O) as a journey doc or proof of identification — a step it has been threatening for months. Criticizing Britain for “disregarding the truth that Hong Kong has been returned to China for twenty-four years,” Zhao stated Beijing reserved the appropriate to take additional motion.
“The U.Ok. is plotting to show a lot of Hong Kong individuals into second-rate U.Ok. residents,” he stated, accusing Johnson’s authorities of “violently” interfering in China’s affairs.
In a press release following Zhao’s feedback, the Hong Kong authorities stated the BN(O) passports, as of Jan. 31, can’t be used for immigration clearance and won’t be acknowledged as a sound doc within the territory.
Whereas the feedback have been amongst China’s harshest in opposition to Britain, it was unclear how a lot impact the change would have or whether or not it could possibly be used to cease Hong Kong residents from fleeing. Residents can go away Hong Kong with a government-issued id card or Hong Kong passport and later use the BN(O) doc to enter the UK.
The Hong Kong authorities clarified Friday that there will probably be no change to the ID card or Hong Kong passport, and that residents can proceed to make use of them when coming into or departing the territory. Airways, the federal government added, should require Hong Kong residents to current passports or Hong Kong id playing cards earlier than permitting them to board. The “only a few” Hong Kong everlasting residents who’ve solely the BN(O) passport, the federal government added, can apply for a Hong Kong passport for journey.
Activists serving to Hong Kongers settle in Britain noticed Beijing’s transfer as largely symbolic, noting that it could be troublesome for Chinese language authorities to know who had settled in the UK by the BN(O) program.
“Not recognizing the BN(O) as a sound journey doc is the mildest motion Beijing can take, so it’s nicely anticipated and even a aid,” stated Simon Cheng, who was granted asylum in Britain final yr and now helps newly arrived Hong Kongers with immigration recommendation, authorized support and different help. Cheng, a former British consulate employee, was snatched and detained in China throughout a enterprise journey there in 2019 and stated he was tortured.
China promised Hong Kong a excessive diploma of autonomy and pledged to protect town’s lifestyle, together with a measure of freedom, for 50 years after the handover. However its tightening management of town, particularly after anti-government protests in 2019, has prompted widespread alarm.
Additional measures by Beijing could possibly be a priority. Rights teams say Chinese language authorities have beforehand used journey paperwork to manage or strain residents it deems troublesome, by confiscating passports or stopping dissidents, in addition to Tibetans, Uighurs and different minorities from acquiring passports.
Within the months since Beijing imposed the nationwide safety regulation on Hong Kong, residents have sought methods to flee town.
Britain’s BN(O) supply has been of specific focus. Since July 15 final yr, some 7,000 Hong Kong individuals have resettled in the UK, which granted them particular permission to remain despite the fact that the BN(O) program doesn’t take impact till this weekend. Others have additionally arrived in Britain hoping to hunt residency by asylum.
In October, the British authorities estimated that between 123,000 and 153,700 BN(O) passport holders and their dependents may arrive within the first yr of the migration supply, and as much as 320,000 over 5 years. Civil society teams say that estimate is conservative; they count on as much as 600,000 Hong Kongers to relocate to Britain.
Activists say Hong Kong authorities may impose additional controls, resembling limiting twin nationality or forcing BN(O) holders to surrender their Hong Kong passports.
“The worst-case situation would undoubtedly be the Chinese language authorities urging all Hong Kong [people] to surrender the BN(O), in any other case there will probably be penalties,” stated Nathan Regulation, an activist who left Hong Kong for Britain. “That is one thing we finally fear about.”
Mahtani reported from Hong Kong. Theodora Yu contributed to this report.