A married couple from Hong Kong who actively took part in the city’s pro-democracy protests have been granted asylum in Canada, according to a report by the Toronto-based The Globe and Mail on Tuesday.

The two Hongkongers, both in their early 30s, told the newspaper that they received a letter from the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board on September 1 which confirmed their status as “Convention refugees,” following their arrival in December 2019.

hong kong protesters fled to canada heidi lee
A group of demonstrators gather in Canada in a show of solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in 2019. File photo: Heidi Lee.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines a Convention refugee as an individual who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of residence, by reason of a “well-founded fear of persecution” over factors such as race, religion, nationality and political opinion.

The Hong Kong man, who remained anonymous out of fear of reprisal, said he was a frontline protester during last year’s citywide protests, originally triggered by a now-axed extradition bill. He had produced protective gear for demonstrators and was linked to a “well-known political party,” he said.

The 33-year-old said he feared for his safety prior to fleeing the semi-autonomous city, as he claimed the Hong Kong police had tailed him and raided his home. He said he was once detained by plainclothes Chinese officers as well.

protest bricks "August 24, 2019"
A photo of some frontline protesters taken at a protest in Hong Kong on August 24, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“It feels now like I no longer need to hide, and I am finally somewhere I can live safely,” the man said in his interview with The Globe and Mail.

The unnamed couple told the publication that their claims for asylum were assisted by a pro-democracy group – New Hong Kong Cultural Club – based in Vancouver. According to the group’s social media accounts, it advocates the promotion, protection and reform of Hong Kong culture. They also included the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” in their introduction, which was banned by the Hong Kong government in July under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Responding to HKFP enquiries, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said, owing to privacy reasons, the agency could neither confirm nor deny whether any individual has sought asylum in the country.

The IRCC said people who have fled Hong Kong and have no other durable solution may seek to resettle in Canada by referral of the United Nations Refugee Agency, or private sponsorship.

“[F]oreign nationals, including Hong Kong residents, in Canada continue to have access to the asylum system… decisions are made based on the merits of the specific facts presented in an individual case, and in accordance with Canada’s immigration laws,” the department wrote in an email reply.

According to statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, authorities registered 25 referred cases from Hong Kong of alleged persecution from January to June – 37 claims were pending as of June 30. None of the claims was finalised as of the end of June.

Mike Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo . Photo: US Department of State, via Flickr.

Last Saturday, the US Department of State announced that Hongkongers would be included in its proposed refugee resettlement programme for the upcoming fiscal year. Refugees from Hong Kong would be given “specific allocations,” alongside those from El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela and other developing countries.

The US estimated that over 300,000 people will submit refugees and asylum claims in 2021. It would admit up to 15,000 applicants through the US Refugee Admission Programme, while 290,000 would be labelled as new asylum cases.

“The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reaffirms America’s enduring commitment to assist the world’s most vulnerable people while fulfilling our first duty to protect and serve the American people,” the statement read.

Correction 22:10pm: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that refugees must demonstrate a “well-founded fear of prosecution” as opposed to “persecution.”

Update 8.10.20: This article was updated to include an email reply from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.