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20 September 2023

Migrants’ Aspiration Programme for Hongkongers

The Migrants’ Aspiration Programme (MAP) is a Migrants’ Rights Network programme in collaboration with Hongkongers in Britain which aims to support participants’ development as community and political leaders. The programme builds on the success of MRN’s previous Migrants’ Aspiration Programme which ran from Jan 2022 until Feb 2023.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) launched the Hong Kong Community Fund in 2023 with the aim of supporting Hongkongers in London and to help them build a sense of belonging in their new communities. MRN was successful in our application for funds and we have launched our free six-month training for any Hong Kong migrant in the UK looking to lead and make a difference.

Why Hongkongers?

Hong Kong has a unique identity and complex history. As a result of the Opium Wars and subsequent treaties in the mid-19th century, China ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire. The two countries agreed that China would essentially lease Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years. On 1 July 1997, Britain transferred authority of Hong Kong to China and ended 150 years of British rule. Hong Kong became, and remains, a Special Administrative Region (SAR).

A key condition of the transfer was something that has become known as the ‘one country, two systems’ policy. This sought to ensure that Hong Kong’s economic, political and judicial systems were kept distinct from mainland China for 50 years. However, over the years, it has become increasingly evident that China is intent on encroaching on the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people. The famous 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ saw protests break out across Hong Kong when China announced that only Beijing-approved candidates could run in the 2017 elections in the SAR.

In June 2020, the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China unanimously passed a new national security law for Hong Kong that came into immediate effect. This law criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries. This legislation is arguably purposely vague to encompass a wide range of activities. Evidence provided to the Home Affairs Select Committee by individuals from Hongkongers in Britain in January 2021 demonstrated the “severe political deterioration” in Hong Kong and widespread safety fears many had. 

In January 2021, the UK Government created a Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa. This allows people from Hong Kong with BN(O) status and their dependent family members to come to the UK to live, work and study on a five year visa. This also gives them a route to permanent settlement and British citizenship.

However, there have been numerous challenges for people arriving from Hong Kong. Many have struggled to adjust and thrive in their new communities. Reports of loneliness, mental health issues and difficulty finding work has caused hardship for some Hongkongers with some dying by suicide. Through the Migrants’ Aspiration Programme for Hongkongers, we want to place power and resources into their hands so they can create the positive changes they want to see for themselves and for other people from Hong Kong. 

Annie Tsang, like many Hongkongers, cherishes the opportunity to move to the UK with her husband and children. While being a volunteer for the first few months for the new London community where she is settling down, she experienced many emotions: she was excited about being registered as a voter, nervous about getting her children into a good school, and as a mid-career professional, she spent a few months finding a job. 

She joined many events that could maintain her self-identity as Hongkonger, such as arts and films festivals, carnivals, craft and food markets, and even protests and rallies for social justice in Hong Kong. She also attends church and volunteers for community and charitable services with many British locals and those activities made her feel a part of such a vibrant and autonomous community. 

Looking to the future

Annie is just one of many Hongkongers in the UK. Like many others on the BN(O) visa scheme, settling into the UK has presented its challenges and being far from home is incredibly difficult. But she is determined to speak up to the challenges and injustices in our society and work to embolden her fellow Hongkongers to thrive in their new communities. Annie feels the word ‘migrant’ has become a negative word. She wants to reclaim the word ‘migrant’ and show Hongkongers, as well as other migrant communities, that being a migrant can be a powerful force for good.

Like other migrants from Hong Kong, Annie wants to see more support and access to mental health services, employment, education and many other areas. MAP for Hongkongers is part of a new stage of empowerment which can help Hongkongers flourish and lead new movements for change.