Australia

Pro-democracy Hong Kongers in Australia welcome Scott Morrison's safe haven plans

Dick* talks to SBS News. Source: SBS News

Australia is "actively considering" offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents who are endangered by a new draconian national security law imposed on the city by China.

Pro-democracy Hong Kongers based in Australia have welcomed the news that the federal government may offer them safe haven.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "actively considering" following Britain's footsteps and issuing visas to Hong Kong residents who are endangered by a new security law imposed by China.

The plans have infuriated Beijing, which has urged Australia to stop interfering in China's internal affairs regarding Hong Kong.

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Dick*, who fled to Australia late last year because he feared he would be arrested for his involvement in the protests said Mr Morrison's comments were a major development.

"The life of Hong Kong people is under a huge threat now," he said.

"A free society and a liberated country like Australia providing a safe haven like this, definitely gives us hope and courage.

"If my case was put to a [Hong Kong] court, I would face an unfair judiciary and I would surely be put in jail."

The new law, which came into effect this week, criminalises secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.

A teenage girl waving an independence flag was among hundreds of people arrested during protests against the law in Hong Kong in the first few days of it being implemented.

Claudia* talks to SBS News on Thursday.
Claudia* talks to SBS News on Thursday.
SBS News

Claudia, originally from Hong Kong and in Australia on a working holiday visa, said Mr Morrison's comments would be welcome by many here and back in Hong Kong.

"There are people who would even sacrifice their own life to protect their homeland ... [But] some of them will want to go because they feel like they don't have a fair legal system."

Claudia has been taking part in pro-democracy activism in Australia and said she is now likely a target of China.

"[By] doing this we are breaking the new national security law ... Although I am in Australia, my family is still in Hong Kong. I'm sure the Chinese government will do everything they can to silence the opposition, so my family could be one of the targets," she said.

"I don't think I can go back to my homeland, it would be great if I could stay in Australia."

Protesters gesture, signifying "Five demands - not one less".
Protesters gesture, signifying "Five demands - not one less".
AAP

Rights groups have also commended Mr Morrison and urged the federal government to move swiftly on the plans.

"Chinese authorities have wasted no time in cracking down on protesters after pushing through new national security laws," Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White said.

"The definition of 'national security' in the legislation is so vague it prevents anyone from knowing how and when they might transgress it," she said.

"Australia has an excellent track record in stepping in to assist people suffering repression by extending safe haven visas, as the Hawke government did notably in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square massacre."

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Antony Dapiran, an Australian writer and lawyer based in Hong Kong, told SBS News it was hard to tell how many Hong Kongers would take up the offer.

"People who feel they are at immediate risk of arrest under the law, or have already been arrested and charged for other protest offences, or those who fear they will be arrested under the law, I'm sure they would be very keen to take up those kinds of opportunities," he said.

"For ordinary people, I think many are taking a wait-and-see approach."

A protester gestures during a rally in Hong Kong.
Protests in Hong Kong have reignited again this year over national security and anthem laws.
Getty

Australia is not alone in possibly offering refuge to Hong Kongers.

Taiwan has opened an office to help residents wanting to flee, and a proposed bill in the United States offering sanctuary to city residents received widespread bipartisan support.

Dick told SBS News it could be mutually-beneficial if people like him chose to make Australia their new home.

"We want to help to build Australia, we want to contribute to this country," he said.

"[Hong Kong] has a lot of talented people. We have lawyers, we have engineers, we have accountants ... I'm sure that we Hong Kong people can help to rebuild the [Australian] economy after the pandemic."

*Name has been changed

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