Nearly 50 Hong Kong residents – many of whom took part in a massive demonstration that began last year when China tightened its grip on Asian cities – sought asylum in Canada, citing abuse and brutality at the hands of police in the former British colony and fear of prosecution that did not fair.
Forty-six people with Hong Kong citizenship applied for asylum between January 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, according to sources with knowledge of the matter. Claims, all pending, were received at the airport, the Canadian Border Security Agency bureau and the Canadian Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship (IRCC) offices throughout the country. Globe and Mail did not identify the source, who is not authorized to talk about this problem.
The immigration department will not confirm the refugee claim number, citing privacy concerns, but said in a statement that “all eligible asylum claimants receive full and fair hearings about the benefits of their claims at the independent quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Agency. Canada.”
Canada is not the first Western country to attract asylum seekers from Hong Kong. In 2018, Germany granted refugee status to two Hong Kong democracy activists who were facing riots in their home country.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture by Hong Kong police since mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would allow extradition to mainland China. This civil disobedience then developed into a demand for democracy and greater autonomy.
Recently under the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong authorities have carried out a broader crackdown and arrested prominent pro-democracy figures from all sectors of society, raising fears among Hong Kong asylum seekers in Canada that they could be detained if they back to Hong Kong. Arbitrary arrests have quickly come under fire from Canada, the United States and other Western countries.
Gloria Chang, a founder and spokesman for the Hong Kong Culture Club based in Canada, said he personally knew of 28 former Hong Kong residents who had made refugee claims with the Canadian government. The majority of the complainants are activists demonstrating against the Hong Kong government and most face indictments at home in connection with the protest.
The Globe spoke to several asylum seekers and held back from reporting certain details of their cases because they feared retaliation against themselves or their families in Hong Kong by Chinese Communist Party agents. The Globe also gives them confidentiality for the same reason.
Under Hong Kong law, riots are defined as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where each person “commits an offense of peace,” and a sentence can be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Civil rights groups around the world have condemned this public ordinance as giving the police too much discretionary authority and allowing disproportionate punishment.
Carrie, in her late 20s, faces charges of rioting in her hometown in Hong Kong for taking part in mass street protests last October. He said police officers repeatedly followed him, refusing to show their identity and threatening him, saying something “will happen to you soon.”
He said fellow protesters were savagely beaten by police and he was worried about his own safety.
He said in his opinion, “The Hong Kong government and legal system are a joke – a tool of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Ah Gor, in his early 30s, also faced charges of riots. He took part in a protest at Hong Kong Polytechnic University last fall, where police surrounded a campus occupied by activists. “It was a war zone, he said. He was shot in the chest with” pepperball, “a projectile that spreads pepper spray that was affected.
Ah Gor originally intended to remain in Hong Kong and fight the riot charges, but he decided it was “futile” because as a political dissident the chances of a fair trial were low.
Tom, at the end of his teenage years, is also worried about his life if he is forced to return to Hong Kong. He hopes to study in Canada later this year. “You have a real democracy here. You can say what you think without worrying that you will be persecuted because of your political stand.”
Hong Kong is visa free and everyone who needs to travel to Canada is an electronic travel authorization, which, in connection with a travel passport, is valid for up to five years or whenever the passport expires.
Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, said this Hong Kong resident’s claim would effectively adjudicate the law and justice system of the Chinese-controlled region. That is, asylum seekers must convince Canadian officials that the city’s judicial and political system raises the possibility of serious persecution. “This will be a serious case because Hong Kong still maintains the institutional framework of the United Kingdom for the court and police,” he said.
The immigration department’s statement to The Globe said asylum eligibility could be denied if the plaintiff had committed a serious crime, such as murder, had previously been denied a claim in Canada or received protection in another country. It takes around 22 months to process refugee claims.
“Canada has always been a friendly society and we will continue to open our doors to newcomers, including those who have fled persecution, terror and war,” the department said.
Under the terms of the surrender of Hong Kong to China by Britain in 1997, Beijing promised a “one country, two systems” approach, in which the region could maintain some freedom of Western democracy, including freedom of speech and freedom of justice, for 50 years.
But protesters, human rights defenders and other countries accuse Beijing of violating the limits of Hong Kong’s autonomy in the past half decade. Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement that since June, 2019, authorities have arrested nearly 8,000 demonstrators but failed to sue every police officer “suspected of having used excessive force.”
With a report from Reuters
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