York University and U of T calling exchange students home from Hong Kong amid rising protests

In the wake of escalating and violent clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong, both York University and the University of Toronto are urging exchange students to return home.

Students at McGill, Queens and UBC also urged to come back to Canada

Anti-government protesters walk past a fire during clashes with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18. As tensions rise between police and protesters, Toronto-area universities are asking exchange students to return home. (Laurel Chor/Getty Images)

In the wake of escalating and violent clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong, both York University and the University of Toronto are urging exchange students to return home.

Ten York students have been pursuing study-abroad programs in Hong Kong, said spokesperson Yanni Dagonas.

"Last week, York University issued a communication to our students regarding the unfolding state of affairs and strongly advised them to return home," Dagonas said.

"Most have returned home and the rest are preparing to leave the area this week. York is helping to make the necessary travel arrangements and will make provisions to support the completion of their academic term."

There are also 20 University of Toronto students in Hong Kong, the school said in a statement.

"We have been in touch with all students who are registered with U of T as being in Hong Kong and are assisting them," the statement reads.

"We are working closely with each partner organization and each student to determine the best approach for helping students stay safe and have a smooth academic transition plan back to U of T."

Montreal's McGill University, Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and the University of British Columbia are also urging students to head back to Canada.

For days, protesters have fortified Hong Kong Polytechnic University's campus to keep police from getting in.

Hong Kong's work week started with multiple protests that disrupted traffic Monday, and schools remained closed because of safety concerns.

There was a temporary lull in the pitched battles for control of the university's campus as the emphasis shifted from hitting the protesters with tear gas and water cannons to waiting for them to come out.

Neither York nor U of T have students at Hong Kong Polytechnic.

Protests started peacefully in Hong Kong in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory's government and Beijing.

Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong's eroding autonomy under Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain.

Jonathan Wong is fourth year student at U of T who came to Toronto for school about five years ago. The situation is weighing on him, he says, as he still has family and friends in the region.

"I'm just afraid, mostly. Panicked and desperate. I think desperate is the main emotion right now," he said.

Wong is a part of the U of T Anti-Extradition Awareness Group, which is a group of about 80 students who have been trying to raise awareness of the situation in Hong Kong through marches and sit-ins.

"I feel like a lot of us in Toronto wish we could be back with our friends and family so we could be there to support them, to protest with them," Wong said.

With files from The Associated Press and Kelda Yuen