Hong Kong pro-democracy activists beg Congress for refugee status

Source: Politico | July 21, 2021 | Phelim Kine

On the eve of a new law allowing “exit bans” on government critics, an open letter pleads for U.S. action to protect Hong Kong’s would-be democrats.

A coalition of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in exile has issued an urgent public plea to the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that will grant refugee status to Hong Kong citizens with “well-founded fears of persecution” by the territory’s authorities.

The letter obtained by POLITICO calls on Congress to grant Priority 2 Refugee Status to Hong Kong’s peaceful pro-democracy protesters seeking resettlement, Temporary Protection Status to Hong Kong citizens already in the U.S. and an extension of visas “to high-skilled Hong Kong residents with an associate degree or above.”

The letter is signed by seven high-profile Hong Kong pro-democracy activists currently living in exile, including former lawmakers Ted Hui, who has found refuge in Australia, and Baggio Leung, who now lives in exile in the U.S. Eighteen foreign-based Hong Kong pro-democracy civil society organizations, including Hong Kong Watch, the Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley and the UC-San Diego Hong Kong Cultural Society are also signatories.

Those protections echo those granted by then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush in an executive order issued in 1990 after the Tiananmen Massacre that allowed Chinese students in the U.S. to remain in the country if they feared state persecution back in China. Congress followed up on that executive order with the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992. The nongovernmental refugee rights advocacy organization Refugee Council USA urged then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2020 “to find ways to help people impacted by the situation in Hong Kong” and specifically to utilize the U.S. Refugee Admission Program to ensure that “refugees from Hong Kong are granted asylum should they flee to the United States.”

The letter argues Hong Kong citizens deserve U.S. legislative protection due to accelerating erosion of the territory’s human rights protections and rule of law: it cites official prohibitions on freedom of expression and association, mass arrests of pro-democracy activists under Hong Kong’s draconian new National Security Law and intensifying official attacks on media freedom.

The letter asks Congress to act quickly, warning that the Hong Kong government is “closing travel routes” for citizens fearful of government reprisals for peaceful protest. Hong Kong’s restrictive new immigration law takes effect on Aug. 1, which has the potential to impose “exit bans” on government critics. Hong Kong police already have a “wanted list” of individuals subject to arrest if they try to leave the territory.


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