Hong Kongers in Canada are banding together to help the latest wave of immigrants fleeing Beijing’s tightening grip on their city.
Networks across Canada, some descended from groups set up after the Tiananmen Square incident in China in 1989, are offering new arrivals everything from jobs and accommodation to legal and mental health services and even car rides to the grocery store.
“We are in a battle. These are my comrades, people who share the same values,” one 38-year-old who asked to be identified only as Ho told Reuters. “Who is going to provide that helping hand if I’m not going to?”
Ho runs a cooking school near Toronto, and recently took on a new kitchen assistant who played a leading role in the city’s 2019 protests and subsequently fled in fear of prison.
Ho, who came to Canada as a teenager before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, is just one person active in the network of main support groups formed in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in the past two years.
Immigrants looking after each other is not unique, but Hong Kongers in Canada, which has one of the world’s biggest overseas concentrations of people from Hong Kong, told Reuters the situation is urgent.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on what is now the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, a year ago, under which many Beijing critics have been arrested.
Large numbers of the people they are seeking to help fear they will be detained for taking part in past protests and may not know how to resettle overseas.
Britain and Canada are two of the most popular destinations for people fleeing Hong Kong.
About 34,000 people applied to live in Britain in the first two months after the country introduced a new fast-track to residency for Hong Kongers earlier this year.
About a fifth of that number applied for temporary and permanent residency in Canada in the first four months of this year.
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers moved there in the 1980s and 1990s for fear they would lose wealth and property, or much of their freedom, after China took back control of the city from Britain.
But the “fragrant harbour” prospered and kept vital freedoms unavailable in mainland China. Because of that, many Hong Kongers returned home but kept a foot in Canada.
The latest wave of emigrants looks more likely to be permanent, as China stamps its authority on Hong Kong.
Covid-19 has complicated matters for new arrivals. Under the latest travel restrictions, even those who have obtained permission to live and work in Canada through the new programme are only allowed to enter the country if they have a job offer.
The Toronto group also has interpreters, lawyers and psychotherapists on hand to help new arrivals and has 10 rooms it can provide as free, temporary accommodation. The rooms are in the homes of group members or friends.
Canada has long had one of the largest populations of overseas Hong Kongers, some of whom came together in 2019 to hold rallies in solidarity with the protests back home.
The Calgary group has helped settle over 30 migrants since the clampdown began.
Alison, a protester who left Hong Kong last year after many of her friends there were arrested for taking part in protests, was one of those helped by the Calgary group.
Along with a few other new arrivals, she launched the Soteria Institute, named after the Greek goddess of safety and salvation, to offer free, weekly online English lessons, resume-writing workshops and emotional support.
Now she has become one of the greeters herself.
“We understand what they’re experiencing when they arrive,” she said. “We try to use our experience to help out as many Hong Kong exiles as we can.”