Carrie’s trip to Hong Kong International Airport is not interesting. Even though he hasn’t slept for several days, he is on guard – paying extra attention to his surroundings and being careful with every step he takes while trying to pass through the gate. After the plane took off, he fell into a deep sleep when the plane floated through the clouds.
“I was left with two choices,” said the 26-year-old asylum seeker who uses a pseudonym. “I must escape from Hong Kong or face political persecution.”
Leaving Hong Kong is a difficult decision that must be taken. Carrie’s activism can be traced back to 2012 where she fought against a moral and national education curriculum along with more than 120,000 protesters. Since then, he has participated in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements, including large-scale protests since June 2019.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m betraying my fellow demonstrators,” he said. “But I must convince myself that I choose to leave so that I can live for the greater good.”
He then escaped from Hong Kong with a tired heart and body injured by tear gas, batons and water cannons. Carrie is now in Canada awaiting a decision about her refugee claims.
Refugee Convention 1951 coined the term “refugee” as an individual who cannot or does not want to return to their homeland because of “the fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of certain social groups, or political opinions.”
In 2018, Canada became the world leader in resettlement of refugees and accepted 28,100 of the 92,400 refugees who settled in 25 countries. The Globe and Mail before reported 46 Hong Kong residents applied for asylum in Canada between 1 January 2020 and 31 March 2020.
Carrie is worried that she will not be able to prove to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Council (IRB) that she is the person who needs protection at her refugee trial.
“I think it is difficult for Western countries to imagine a democratic society collapsing and turning into a police state,” he said. “And I think it will still be hard to believe for Hong Kong citizens if we haven’t watched our democracy decline over the past year.”
Leo Shin, a professor of Asian Studies and History at the University of British Columbia, told the HKFP that the Canadian government must uphold and grant asylum to those who have strong fears about persecution in their home countries because of their political opinions.
“While every asylum request must be decided on its own merits, the Canadian government must understand that the political climate in Hong Kong has deteriorated rapidly and that the space for political dissent there is rapidly shrinking,” he said.
That IRB has suspended all direct examinations until further notice due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The future of Carrie and many other asylum seekers in Canada is uncertain.
For now, Carrie is focusing on raising international awareness on the Internet. He also plans to work when he receives a work permit, so that he can donate part of his salary to a non-profit in Hong Kong and financially support those who are still protesting.
In Canada, eligible refugee claimants can apply for work permits or study pending approval of their status. Some asylum seekers are in the midst of pursuing higher education but are forced to leave the city due to accusations of riots and other violations.
Irene was stunned by a snowstorm when she first arrived, but what surprised her the most was diversity and inclusion in Canadian society. Although his refugee claims are still pending, he hopes to continue his education, so he can understand what it’s like to live under Western democracy.
As a pro-independence student, the 19-year-old believes that this will enable him to apply his knowledge and contribute to the independence movement in Hong Kong in the future.
“I like diversity here,” he said. “My Iranian neighbors are willing to talk to me despite cultural differences, and even my hairdresser wants to learn more about Hong Kong culture.”
“There is also an LGBTQ village where you can see the rainbow flag hanging around,” Irene said.
Irene, who also uses a pseudonym, said people in Hong Kong were less friendly to ethnic minorities and non-Chinese sexual minorities.
“I think Hong Kong residents have room for improvement,” he said. “We need to embrace differences between individuals, especially when we fight for greater democratic freedom.”
However, Irene’s political views were seen as anti-Chinese forces suggesting separatism. Beijing’s recent plan to implement a national security law increases the risk of a former frontline judge being sued if he ever returns to Hong Kong.
Recently, he also learned that a friend was accused of riots. News like this greatly disturbs Irene, but there is nothing worse than division among pro-democracy demonstrators.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a pan-democrat, pro-independence localist or Civic Passion localist because we all fight for the same goal.”
Although Irene considers herself pro-independence, she says that criticizing other pro-democracy ideas will hamper the movement.
“I think we are often disturbed by struggle sessions where we spend so much time evaluating each other,” Irene said. “We must put aside our differences and fight for common goals with the hope of a better future.”
There is no place like home
For Sai, being in Canada was unrealistic.
“It’s like … a minute ago, you had dinner with family and the next minute you were in another country across the Pacific Ocean,” said frontline protesters who are now also asylum seekers in Canada. He used a pseudonym because of security concerns.
If Sai does not leave Hong Kong, he will face charges that could sentence him to ten years or more – students must spend his best years in prison. He also refused to set his accusations for fear of being sued.
His colleagues supported his decision to seek asylum in Canada, which gave him the strength to continue and settle down.
Still, Sai never stopped paying attention to the situation in Hong Kong. Every time he reads the news, the ongoing social unrest makes him worry about people who are politically not involved.
“We need to think carefully about the consequences if we don’t dedicate ourselves to the movement – think about what has been taken from us and the rights that we will lose in the future.”
“There are times when you can do more for Hong Kong to avoid the worst scenario, but you don’t end up doing it,” he said. “And it will be too little too late when you realize what has been lost.”
When asked about what he missed the most besides his family and friends, he said he missed driving along the beach at night where he would go to places like Cyberport and Sai Kung.
“Hong Kong is my home,” he said. “That gives me a unique feeling even if I just walk on the streets at night.”
Similar to Sai, Irene and Carrie can’t stop thinking about the city. Irene desperately needs street food like fish balls and traveling by minibus. Although far from home, Carrie said her heart was still with Hong Kong.
“We will not leave our home,” Carrie said, linking with one of Winston Churchill’s quotes, “countries that fell to war rose again, but those who surrendered with greed were finished”.
“I hope that people in Hong Kong will not give up so that asylum seekers like me can return with dignity.”
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