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Hong Kong Migrants Embrace Voting Rights in UK Election Amid China Tensions

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Richard Wong moved to Britain from Hong Kong two years ago. For the 25-year-old, participating in a free election feels strange, especially knowing his friends back home no longer have that right.

Experiencing Democracy

Wong actively volunteers for an opposition Labour party candidate in the upcoming UK general election. Reflecting on his experience, he noted, “Back in Hong Kong, we tried so hard to get democracy and then lost it. Here, we practice democracy, but in a very different context.” Wong finds it surreal to be involved in democratic processes while his friends in Hong Kong face imprisonment for similar activities.

Hong Kong Migrants in Britain

Since 2021, over 180,000 Hong Kongers have moved to Britain under a special visa programme. This programme was created in response to a crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, a former British colony handed back to Beijing in 1997. China justified the crackdown as necessary to restore stability after the 2019 protests. The visa allows these migrants to arrive with the right to vote, unlike many other newcomers.

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First Voting Opportunity

The upcoming national election will be the first chance for many Hong Kong migrants to participate in the UK’s democratic process. Carmen Lau, a campaign coordinator for Vote for Hong Kong 2024, emphasises the importance of voting. “I know the power of votes. I think if we have that power, we should utilise it,” said Lau. Carmen was previously elected as a Hong Kong district councillor in 2019. But was later disqualified for refusing to pledge loyalty to the territory’s mini-constitution.

Ongoing Concerns

Despite being in the UK, some Hong Kongers remain fearful of China’s influence. Relations between Britain and China are strained, with accusations of intimidation and espionage. At cultural events, many Hong Kong attendees wear masks. They even avoid cameras to protect their families back home from potential harassment. “The right to vote is precious, and more Hong Kong people are moving to the UK. We’re concerned about China’s control and spies. So there is a need to speak out,” said Kate. The 33-year-old is another Hong Kong migrant who chose not to share her second name because of the fear of reprisals.

(With Inputs from Reuters)