Exclusive: The real story behind seeking political asylum from Hong Kong

4 mn read

China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong has seen Hong Kongers begin to arrive in the UK ahead of the UK Government’s announced visa scheme for British Nationals Overseas (BN(O)s), which is expected to come into effect in January 2021. The UK Government has indicated that the British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa will begin in January 2021 and will allow BN(O) status holders ordinarily residing in Hong Kong and their dependent family members to come to the United Kingdom. The British Government has indicated that those coming to the United Kingdom under this visa scheme will be eligible to apply for settlement after five years, and then British citizenship one year after that.

With many of those who have been involved in the protest being born after 1997, and thus not eligible for BN(O) status, some Hong Kongers have also arrived in the UK to claim asylum.

To qualify to be recognised as a refugee, those claiming asylum must have been able to leave their country of origin, and show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of their race, nationality, political opinion, religious opinion, or membership of a particular social group.

Unlike the BN(O) visa scheme which is expected to have clearly defined parameters and requirements set out within the Immigration Rules, applicants for asylum can never be sure whether their case will succeed, as this will depend on whether the Home Office believes their claim to raise a well-founded fear of persecution.

Photo: Perseus

Simon Cheng, a former employee at the British Consulate in Hong Kong who has been granted asylum by the UK Government at the end of June 2020, told Eat News, “I left with a sense of uncertainty and fear but determined to leave and start a new life but keep fighting for democracy back in my hometown,” adding that even though he had fled to the United Kingdom, he nevertheless cannot feel “absolutely safe” in light of the long reach of agents of the Chinese Communist Party. Henry (a pseudonym), a Hong Konger who has claimed asylum, highlighted the worries of claiming asylum, saying that Asylum is not a “safe” option since there is always a chance of failure.

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Cheng now aims to highlight the “risk of the CCP regime” to the UK, and to encourage the international community to “safeguard the democracy in their own country”, calling for “legal action and sanctions against China.”

Cheng has now been declared a wanted person under China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong, which came into effect on 30 June 2020, 11pm Hong Kong time.

Henry indicated that an additional worry was trying to leave Hong Kong, worried that the Hong Kong authorities would prevent him from leaving, or the UK authorities refusing entry and requiring him to return to Hong Kong. “I face two challenges: one is leaving Hong Kong, and the other is entering the UK. If one of them failed, I might now be in jail.” On 1 July 2020, a protester who had allegedly stabbed a police officer was arrested after his flight had started its push back from the gate and police arrived at the airport requesting the flight be returned to the terminal in order to conduct the arrest.

Henry added, “Of course, I worry especially for my friends and teammates, they are in danger. I hope they can be safe and leave Hong Kong soon. I didn’t think much when I left. Safety is my first priority,” also fearing the long reach of agents of the CCP regime and adding,  “I can’t do much to promote independence at this stage, but I am seeking for peers who left, just like me. I hope that if I connect with them first, we can do further movement when we can build up a society. If there are protests in the UK, I would take part, but I am worried about exposing myself, my name and face, and I want to protect myself and my family members first.”

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Asylum may also be the only route available to some Hong Kongers, not only because of the limits which the BN(O) scheme will have in requiring applicants to have, or have ties to, BN(O) status. Reiterating concerns from some Hong Kongers, Henry highlighted that the BN(O) scheme may not be helpful to those who do not have a lot of money with all the application fees and immigration health surcharge required to apply for the visa.

Policy analyst, Matheiu Vaillancourt, told Eat News, “The UK government decision on the Hong Kong refugees issue was interesting, but it will be challenging due to many factors. First of all, I think integration won’t be a huge factor as most Hong Kongers who want to emigrate speak some English, are well-educated for the most part and the majority of them have the financial capacity to be able to sustain themselves financially for a while. The situation is a bit different from the Boat People in Vietnam who immigrated from Vietnam to the US, Australia and Canada in the late 1970s and the Cuban political refugees who immigrated to the USA because these groups did not have the financial capacity (outside a few elites) on average that Hong Kongers who want to immigrate to the UK have.

“The big challenge will be that if you don’t find a way to integrate these new arrivals by building new housing or building new cities – it will lead to a lot of pressure on existing infrastructure.”

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.


Perseus (a pen name) is a Hongkonger based in the UK. He is a freelance photojournalist and writer, as well as a human rights and public law lawyer practising in London.


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