Close to 100 people queued up to check in for a flight to London on Tuesday evening, many carrying massive suitcases and the classic red-white-blue nylon bags.
Once a symbol of mainland-Hong Kong travels in the days when people transported goods to China when they visited relatives, the checkered nylon bags now accompany families to their new lives overseas.
Following the anti-extradition bill protests and unrest in 2019, Hong Kong has experienced a series of drastic political changes, including sweeping national security legislation, and an overhaul of the city’s election systems.
According to passenger traffic data compiled by shareholder activist David Webb, the city has seen a net outflow of over 100,000 people since the enactment of the national security law last year.
The queue created a stark contrast to the other empty aisles at the departure floor of the Hong Kong International Airport, as international travel was essentially quashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As people waited for their turn to check their luggage in, some were squeezing in some last-minute packing and rearranging, including Mr. Wan’s uncle.
Wan was at the airport to bid farewell to his uncle’s family, who were emigrating to the UK; he was tasked with guarding the suitcases as his uncle rushed to find a backpack which he seemed to have forgotten about.
A 23-year-old fresh university graduate, Wan said he also had thoughts about leaving the city, as the latest political developments were worrisome to him, and he could not see a way out should he decide to stay in Hong Kong.
Fish, a 30-year-old who received a job offer in the United Kingdom and decided to move there, told HKFP that he had not thought about leaving the city a few years ago, but made the decision because of the political instability in Hong Kong.
“Politics changes daily in Hong Kong; after gaining residency elsewhere, I can come back in a few years. At least I have a backup plan,” said Fish.
Fish planned to use the British government’s “5 + 1” scheme, where owners of British National (Overseas) passports and their dependents can now apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in Britain. After five years, they can apply for citizenship.
The 30-year-old, who was flying alone, had over a dozen friends sending him off, who waited for over an hour with him at the check-in queue.
“Half of my family supported my decision, and those who didn’t still respected my wishes,” said Fish.
Flocks of people moved slowly to the security gate after checking in their luggage, as many people took their last chance to take group photos. Others were busy consoling their crying loved ones.
An elderly couple bade farewell to their family members, who were busy handing their passports to the immigration officer. They waved goodbye and waited until the young family with two children got through customs checks.
Many of those who were lining up to get their bags checked often turned their heads to catch a last glimpse of those who were staying.
“I don’t seem to see any hope in the city,” said Wan. “If I have the chance, I would like to make a life elsewhere and contribute to Hong Kong when I have the ability.”