As the situation in Hong Kong suddenly took a turn for the worse, the U.S. State Department acted to give Hong Kong citizens refugee status for the first time in its history. On October 1, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives voted to pass the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act proposed by Democratic Congressman Malinowski. Next, the bill will be handed to the House of Representatives and then the Senate before it can be submitted to the President for his signature, after which it will take effect.
Representative Malinowski proposed the bill on June 30. An amended version was submitted on September 29, which was passed by the committee two days later. The bill recognizes that the people of Hong Kong face an increased threat of persecution. As a result, the United States proposes to provide “safe havens” for refugees from Hong Kong and encourages like-minded countries to allow for similar protections.
The bill would require the U.S. administration to provide “temporary protected status” for Hong Kong residents who face political persecution and cannot return to Hong Kong safely. Hong Kong residents who have been in the United States within the bill’s prescribed conditions will also be able to obtain legal residence and work permits.
The bill aims to help expedite the processing of refugee and asylum applications and includes Hongkongers who have been arrested, prosecuted, detained, or convicted for participating in peaceful protests. This law also intends to provide a fast track to U.S. citizenship to those who have contributed to Hong Kong’s success as a means to strike an economic blow to China.
The Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) has been promoting the bill. In an interview on October 2, its director, Samuel Chu, pointed out that the passage of the bill is of great significance. He stated that it shows that the United States supports the Hong Kong democracy movement both verbally and with practical actions. He added that many U.S. Congress members as well as U.S. citizens feel that Hong Kong has changed from being China’s most open city to its least free city under China’s National Security Act. The bill can provide immense help for threatened protesters.
Chu said: “The most important thing about this bill is in protecting Hong Kong’s young prominent protesters. Many demonstrators may have no educational background or enough money to immigrate to other countries. Giving refugee status to the Hong Kong people is very important to the democracy movement in Hong Kong and those participating in democratic activity.”
One person in Hong Kong who worked to help Hong Kong demonstrators obtain political asylum said that he felt upset that Hong Kong had become an area that is now included in the U.S. refugee program alongside places like Cuba and Venezuela. Hong Kong was once a city that people from China would risk their lives to flee to. Reflecting on the situation, some Hong Kong protesters understand that the international community has realized that Hong Kong is currently undergoing severe oppression.
Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen and David Jirard