When countries experience turbulent times, large populations of people often look to migrate. Canada is often a country people seek out. Hong Kong is no exception. In the 1980s and ’90s, both the hand off of the island’s sovereignty between the U.K. and China as well as the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, led to mass migrations of Hong Kongers to Canada, as well as the United States and Australia.
With the recent Occupy Central movement – which started when associate law professor for the University of Hong Kong, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, called upon thousands of protestors to “paralyze” the streets of Hong Kong’s financial hub – it seems turbulent times have again surfaced. Something that started as a peaceful protest soon turned into a chaotic battlefield. The protest, which many students were involved in, aimed to send a message to the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to implement a fair election in 2017 for the chief executive position in Hong Kong.
So with many against the movement, the question is will history repeat itself? Will the chaotic situation of Occupy Central lead to a spike in migration from Hong Kong?
A recent survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong showed that 83 per cent of Hong Kongers want Occupy Central to end. The survey also showed that about 55 per cent of the 513 survey respondents said they are opposed to the movement and only 28 per cent supported it.
So with many against the movement, the question is will history repeat itself? Will the chaotic situation of Occupy Central lead to a spike in migration from Hong Kong to nations like Canada, the U.S. and Australia?
Researchers Say No
Ronald Skeldon, a professor in the department of geography in the school of global studies at the University of Sussex, has spent a number of years studying Hong Kong migration. He recently worked on a study titled Hong Kong’s Future Population and Manpower Needs to 2030. He says he doesn’t think the number of Hong Kong immigrants arriving in Canada this year will change much from previous years (in recent years Canada has seen its most immigrants arrive from mainland China, India and the Philippines, he says). As for Occupy Central, he says it all started with a group of people wishing to change the voting system in Hong Kong, which indicates a loyalty to their nation.
“[The protesters] could be seen as committed to Hong Kong,” he explains. “They will presumably not want to leave,” adding that this could change if there is increased amounts of violence.
Skeldon also does not see any lasting effects in Occupy Central that would make people want to emigrate from Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong still functioned, and people were still attracted to the city.” – Ronald Skeldon, University of Sussex professor
“Members of the public, while inconvenienced, were still making money,” he says. “Hong Kong still functioned, and people were still attracted to the city.”
According to Skeldon, he doesn’t believe there would be any major increase of immigrants landing in Canada. Even if there were an influx of Hong Kong immigrants, the overall numbers would not be more than the previous years, he adds. Skeldon says he expects the likes of Ukraine and the “troubled” countries of the Middle East to be more growing sources of immigrants than Hong Kong. He doesn’t see this changing anytime soon.
What the Community Says
Philip Woo, born in Canada and now living in Hong Kong, working at the country’s South China Morning Post news publication, is in agreement with Skeldon. He doesn’t see why most Hong Kongers would feel the need to leave unless they were affected directly by the Occupy movement – that is, living in the Central or Mong Kok districts where the protests actually take place. “If people had the option to [migrate], then yes,” Woo says. “But not everyone is like that.”
Sandra Kong emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1995 and has lived in Toronto for 20 years. Kong, 53, is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese living in Canada. Before emigrating, she worked at Occidental Chemical Company in China as executive secretary for John Kamm, who is the founder of the human rights group Dui Hua Foundation.
“China is still far from achieving a democratic government, so people are likely to leave for the west until it does.” – Sandra Kong, Canadian resident
Having migrated to Canada during the ’90s, Kong sees things differently than Woo and Skelton. Kong says the increase of Chinese immigrants in Canada is very likely, and at the same time, very promising.
“There are lots of learned individuals in China who are pro-democracy,” she explains. “China is still far from achieving a democratic government, so people are likely to leave for the west until it does.”
Looking at the Occupy movement, Kong says there will be a portion of Hong Kongers that will in fact look to migrate elsewhere, Canada being one viable option.
She also says she would agree with those who wish to immigrate away from Hong Kong, not so much because of the short-term damage the Occupy movement has done to the city, but because it is breeding a distorted representation of democracy. Kong says that distorted democracy is what will cause long-term damages to Hong Kong.
“[The protesters’] actions are not only disruptive to the city, but it’s motivated by selfish intents,” she states.
“Hong Kongers will think about moving out of the city, but it might not be immediately. It will really depend on whether the situation gets worse.” – Janie Lau, Hong Kong resident
Janie Lau has yet a different opinion. Currently studying in Hong Kong, Lau supports the Occupy movement, but at times even she considered leaving there due to the state of how things were looking. Lau says she had thought about starting a life in Canada, as she has relatives living in Toronto.
“Hong Kongers will think about moving out of the city, but it might not be immediately,” explains Lau. “It will really depend on whether the situation gets worse, and by the time the problem is resolved, there would be no point in emigrating.”
She explains that leaving home is a difficult choice, and most people in Hong Kong don’t have the option to emigrate. Lau says the house prices in Hong Kong are increasing each year, and it’s difficult to find another place once you leave.
“We try and push the Hong Kong government to promise us a better life, and we are still trying,” she says. “But there is no guarantee that we will also find that better life right away after emigrating to somewhere else.”