British Columbia

Former Hong Kong activists wait eagerly as Ottawa starts approving asylum claims

A family that fled Hong Kong fearing persecution is hoping their asylum claims will be approved by the Canadian government as Ottawa quietly begins granting refugee status to pro-democracy activists.

Many families have waited months to have asylum claims heard; some have been approved, support group says

A police officer holds a baton during a demonstration at a shopping mall popular with traders from mainland China near the Chinese border in Hong Kong in December 2019. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

A family that fled Hong Kong fearing persecution is hoping their asylum claims will be approved by the Canadian government as Ottawa quietly begins granting refugee status to pro-democracy activists.

The family, now based in Vancouver, fled Hong Kong in late December. The father, 28, was an organizer and participant with several pro-democracy rallies and says he had to make the difficult decision to leave the city once it was clear he was being followed and threatened by agents who he believes were from the Chinese Communist Party.

CBC News agreed not to identify the family amid their ongoing safety concerns. He was once arrested in front of his daughter following a peaceful protest, and fears he could still be targeted by agents on foreign soil.

"There's definitely fear ... I have two children — a daughter and a younger son. When I take them to school [the police] could show up. It's very disturbing," he said. "My daughter was so terrified by the police."

Since January, dozens of asylum claims have been submitted to the Canadian government by both former Hong Kong activists and victims of police brutality, according to allies that have helped submit the claims.

At least two people have had their claims approved and been declared UN convention refugees by Canada amid Hong Kong's heightened tensions with China and growing political turmoil, according to ally group the New Hong Kong Cultural Club (NHKCC).

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada would not confirm the approved claims with CBC News.

NHKCC says it has helped submit 30 asylum claims to the Canadian government.

Riot police stand guard next to a Christmas tree inside a shopping mall during an anti-government protest in Hong Kong in December 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Chinese control

The father interviewed by CBC News fled to Canada after months of protests in Hong Kong, which were sparked by a proposed extradition bill that signified a seeping of influence from mainland China over the semi-autonomous region.

Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in ongoing pro-democracy rallies. Many high-profile demonstrators have been persecuted in the city. The father says he was among a group of organizers that eventually caught the attention of authorities.

He recalls being followed by unknown agents who would film him with camera phones, and threaten "to make him disappear."

"Friends within the protest circle would disappear, and it got me worried," he said. After witnessing the violent clash at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he felt the city was no longer safe. He left with his family for Vancouver, where his brother lives.

He's since filed an asylum claim with the Canadian government, working with Richmond-based immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong. The family applied in February but has yet to have their case heard.

Wong says meetings with immigration officials have been indefinitely delayed due to the pandemic.

"The federal government feels that there are more important things to do other than expediting, or providing a particular stream for these people who are in dire need of asylum," said Wong.

People take part in a 'universal siege on communists' rally at Chater Garden in Hong Kong in January. (Philip Fong, AFP via Getty Images)

Refugee status

Immigration lawyer Robert Tibbo says Hong Kong activists have a very strong case to claim asylum, particularly after China passed a national security law earlier this summer. The law makes secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities illegal. Protesters who shout slogans or hold banners calling for the region's independence are in violation of the law.

"Hong Kong society has been silenced," said Tibbo. "The Hong Kong individuals who say they are being politically persecuted simply have to point to how other activists and protesters were treated."

Tibbo says protesters who have been followed can make a strong case that their safety was threatened. He expects there will be more asylum claims in Canada as the national security law fuels a growing exodus.

"What you're seeing in Hong Kong is people saying, 'I have to leave now — otherwise I won't ever be able to leave.'"

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