17 June 2020

The UK must lead an international lifeboat for all Hongkongers

By Dr Azeem Ibrahim

China has now passed its new National Security Law which allows Beijing to intervene directly in Hong Kong with the full force of the state. Mainland intelligence agencies are already moving into the city in what is surely the first phase of a crackdown on Hongkongers who have protested against Beijing over the past year or so.

In other words, the conflict in Hong Kong is about to re-ignite, except this time the protesters will be faced by the full might of the Communist Party.

As Chris Whitehouse wrote on CapX earlier this week, the UK has a particular historic duty to Hongkongers. The Government has gone some way to fulfilling its moral obligations by offering the right to move to this country to every holder of a British National (Overseas) passport (BNO), and anyone who is entitled to one.

That option covers some 2.9 million people, out of a total of 7.5 million. Commendable though that is, the offer does not cover many of the younger protesters and leaders who may well be ineligible for BNO status under UK immigration law. So, we must now expand this assistance and lead a global effort to ensure that these young people fighting for the right to live in a democracy – a right that is being taken away from them by the Communist Party – are not left to Beijing’s coming retribution.

That said, 7.5 million people is clearly quite a substantial number. Of course, not all of them will be inclined to leave the island, but a good number might be expected to want to. Even if we assumed that half were inclined to move here, three million people is still a good chunk, and would constitute a larger number than the population of any city in the UK outside of London.

So if the British government feels the UK is unable absorb all those young, highly educated, highly motivated, entrepreneurial fighters for democracy, it could at least lead an international lifeboat effort for all those Hong Kongers who need it.

There is a clear precedent for such a scheme with how the British government led the effort to give asylum to the tens of thousands of Indians exiled from the newly independent Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972. Back then, the UK was joined by Canada, Kenya and India. More recently, the international community rallied round to offer asylum to those fleeing the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s.

To that end, the Prime Minister should propose a formal Contact Group for Hong Kong and begin coordinating an international life-boat policy for Hong Kongers who will need a lifeline in the face of the coming crackdown. So far, the United States, Canada and Germany have made initial moves to grant special asylum rights to Hong Kongers fleeing Chinese oppression, and certainly there will be other Commonwealth countries which would find benefit in an attracting such talented, industrious people to their shores. The UK has taken the first courageous step – now it’s time to follow with the second, and do so as soon as possible.

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Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington DC. 

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.