In the viewfinder of Beijing and its anti-subversion law, residents of the semi-autonomous region are massively renewing their British overseas passports, obtained after the handover, in order to be able to possibly flee.
For a long time, they molded in the back of the drawers, abandoned like useless travel documents. But today, British overseas passports (British National Overseas, or BNO) are becoming tickets for exile, makeshift haste to be acquired by Hong Kong residents annihilated by the prospect of being watched. by the eye of Beijing once the anti-subversion law is applied.
“I hadn’t renewed it since 2007, it was of no use to me since the passport [de la région administrative spéciale] from Hong Kong allows us to go to many countries without a visa, “said 40-year-old Dan. But in 2014, after the monster protests, “I renewed it, because I understood that the government was no longer listening to us, and unfortunately, it may be useful to me today”.
Hostility to the Communist central government has turned into revolt and, to silence the opponents, Beijing wants to quickly impose its law on the semi-autonomous region. In response, London opened its arms to the roughly 3 million Hong Kongers it claims are eligible for the BNO, whose rights would be extended to that of working and staying for a renewable period of one year.
“We are at least delighted to know that someone is reaching out to us. And I take it, this hand, ”reacts Chow, a 48-year-old employee, who however does not know if or when she will take this emergency exit. She is waiting to know the content of the law and how it will be applied. The local press has already reported on the creation of a special police unit to collect information and investigate. “A really lethal project”, according to Chow, but which, local authorities trumpet, however has wide popular support, if we believe the 3 million signatures of a petition launched by them and the thirteen demonstrators who ostensibly tore their BNO (including one due) to the British consulate on Sunday to denounce the British interference.
Beijing may well assure that stability will return, the departure plans float heavily in the air. Already in September, a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong revealed that 42% of residents wanted to emigrate and, in 2019, more than 120,000 BNO renewal requests were made. “We wait before leaving to see how far our freedoms of expression and assembly will be stifled by the Communist Party,” said Lo. “But I’m 49 years old. Who will want me in the UK, where the crisis is already? Johnson’s offer may be a wooden check, “wonders one who would prefer, even if it were to go into exile,” a sweeter and cheaper lifestyle in Asia. “
“The Hong Kongers have understood that with Brexit and the departure of the Europeans, they will be useful for filling posts and renting houses. Everyone can benefit from this dynamic ”, underlines Kelvin Lam, local elected representative. But “the main question is whether the BNO will also be granted to the children of the holders”. Only persons born before the handover in 1997 are entitled to the document. “Young people should have had priority because they are on the front line facing the police,” says Lo. They are also in the crosshairs of the authorities. Of the more than 9,000 arrests linked to the protests, almost 20% are minors and face up to ten years in prison for “riot”. “My 15-year-old son continues to demonstrate, I can’t help it. It will become really very risky, and I may leave to protect him, hoping that the British authorities will also give him papers, “says Dan.
Young people made up the bulk of the second wave of migration after the failure of the pro-democracy protests in 2014, the first massive wave having been triggered by the fear of returning to the Chinese fold in 1997, recalls John Hu, from the immigration agency Migration Consulting. The only 1er April 1996, the last day of registration for BNOs, authorities had to open a stadium to allow some 35,000 applicants to wait.
Who will want me in the UK, where the crisis is already?
According to John Hu, today we are witnessing a third wave, which this time affects all age groups and promises to be “historic”, even if the “we wait to see” predominates. His agency has seen its activity multiplied by five since the announcement by Beijing on May 21 of the imminent promulgation of the anti-subversion law. “The United Kingdom is not the favorite destination among English-speaking countries, even if the universities are good”, because the high standard of living and certain types of visas (business and for start-up) are difficult to acquire. For example, you have to spend at least 2.23 million euros (3.4 million Canadian dollars) for a “golden visa” (residence permit granted against local investments) in the United Kingdom, against 500 000 (approximately CA $ 760,000) in Portugal. Unaffordable prices in both cases for many Hong Kongers, one in five of whom live below the poverty line.