The United Kingdom is opening its doors to Hong Kong citizens in the wake of the new national security law that China imposed on the city.
A sweeping law: China’s central government imposed a new national security law in the former British colony on Tuesday, which many believe is aimed at silencing opposition to the ruling Communist Party.
- The law, which was passed quickly and released to the public near midnight, introduces new crimes for “subverting the government” with severe penalties, the New York Times reports.
- The legislation effectively gives Beijing extensive powers, allowing mainland authorities to legally operate in Hong Kong with impunity.
- Life imprisonment awaits for the most serious cases involved with those seeking to “split” Hong Kong from China, or “colluding” with foreign governments or “external forces” to spy or gravely harm China.
- Critics pointed out that the law strips the city of its autonomy and residents of their precious civil and social freedoms.
- Under the new law, Hong Kong citizens with British National Overseas (BNO) passports are now in danger of facing imprisonment for acts such as protesting or campaigning.
- On Wednesday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the legislation as a threat to the freedom of Hong Kong citizens, calling it “a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong, and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people.”
The UK weighs in: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the law was “a clear and serious violation” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which initiated the city’s handover from British to China in 1997 during Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament July 1.
- According to the declaration, Hong Kong’s existing system of government would remain in place for 50 years.
- “It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law,” Johnson said.
- During the 23rd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British rule to China on Wednesday, hundreds of people flocked to the Causeway Bay district to protest the legislation.
- At least 300 people were arrested amid the heavy presence of police officers. Nine of those arrested were held on suspicion of violating the national security law, Hong Kong Police announced on social media.
- Others were reportedly apprehended due to “unlawful assembly, a disorder in public places, furious driving, and possession of an offensive weapon.”
- Johnson further noted: “We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National Overseas status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for British citizenship — and that is precisely what we will do now.”
A path to citizenship: Johnson has since announced that his government is set to honor its promise to BNO passport holders, CNN Reports.
- In a recent press release, the UK’s Foreign Office shared that “this new bespoke immigration route” is set to make eligible Hong Kong residents free to move to the UK without the current six month limit.
- The announcement noted that this will be implemented in the coming months, with more details such as the exact date and others to be revealed soon.
- “In the meantime, we will ensure British National (Overseas) citizens who wish to come to the UK will be able to do so, subject to standard immigration checks,” it noted.
- Raab announced some preliminary details about this route to the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying that BNO passport holders and their dependents who wish to come to Britain will be given five years’ limited leave to remain, with the right to work or study.
- The Foreign Secretary added that after these five years, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further 12 months with settled status, they will then be able to apply for citizenship.
Based on the UK government’s data, there are approximately 2.9 million BNOs currently in Hong Kong, with nearly 350,000 BNO passport holders as of February 24, 2020.
Feature Image via Getty