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Thousands flee Hong Kong for UK, fearing China crackdown

Thousands flee Hong Kong for UK, fearing China crackdown
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London: Cindy had a comfortable lifestyle in Hong Kong: she owned several properties with her husband, they had a good business going.

But last year she made up her mind to leave it all behind and move her family to Britain, and not even a global pandemic was going to sway her decision.

To uproot ourselves like this is definitely not easy. But things got uglier last year, the government was really driving us away, said the businesswoman and mother of two young children who didn't give her family name because she feared repercussions for speaking out against the Chinese government.

Everything we value - freedom of speech, fair elections, liberties - has been eroded. It's no longer the Hong Kong we knew, it's no longer somewhere we can call home.

Cindy, who landed in London last week, is one of thousands of Hong Kongers fleeing their hometown since Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on the territory last summer.

Some are leaving because they fear punishment for supporting pro-democracy protests. But many others, like her, say China's encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable, and they want to seek a better future for their children abroad. Most say they don't plan to ever go back.

Many firmed up their exit plans after Britain announced in July that it would open a special immigration pathway for up to 5 million eligible Hong Kongers to live, work and eventually settle in the U.K.

Meanwhile, the new visa route officially opened on Sunday.

Around 300,000 Hong Kong nationals are expected to apply for the visa, which is open to holders of the British National (Overseas) passport and their immediate dependents and was announced last year in retaliation of China's controversial new National Security Law.

The UK maintains the new law is a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration under which Hong Kong had been handed over to the Chinese authorities over 23 years ago. I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country, said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear, he said.

Under the route, those with BN(O) status and their eligible family members will be able to come to the UK to live, study and work. As with other visas, after?five years in the UK, they?will be able to apply for?settlement, followed by?British citizenship after a further 12 months.

Global Britain will always stand up for what is right and uphold our commitments. This new visa delivers on our promise to the people of Hong Kong, honouring our strong historic relationship and upholding their freedoms, said UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.

I look forward to welcoming people wanting to put down roots and build a new life with their family in the UK, she said.

In response, the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it would no longer recognise the BNO passport as a travel document. China maintains its new security law is necessary to prevent the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019. However, the law has caused alarm worldwide, with opponents saying it erodes the territory's freedoms as a semi-autonomous region of China.

Britain's government said some 7,000 people with British National Overseas (BNO) status have arrived since July.

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