London, UK
Reuters

Britain has pledged £43 million to help people arriving from Hong Kong find jobs, houses and schools under an initiative allowing millions to resettle after China's imposition of new security laws in the former British colony.

Hong Kong Nathan Law

Hong Kong exile pro-democracy activist Nathan Law wearing a face mask holds a rally with other activist groups during China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit in Berlin, Germany, on 1st September, 2020. PICTURE: Reuters/Michele Tantussi/File photo.

HONG KONG DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST GRANTED POLITICAL ASYLUM BY BRITAIN

Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law said he has been granted political asylum in Britain, where he arrived last July after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on his home city that has been heavily criticised by the West. 

The move is certain to ratchet up tensions between London and Beijing as Britain opens its doors to potentially more than five million residents of Hong Kong in the wake of the contentious security legislation. 

"After several interviews in four months, the Home Office has informed me that my asylum application is approved," Law said on Twitter late on Wednesday. 

"The fact that I am wanted under the national security law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and am unlikely to return to Hong Kong without risk."

- ANNE MARIE ROANTREE

An escalating row with Beijing over reforms in Hong Kong has seen Britain open its doors to potentially more than five million people, offering them the chance to live and work in the country and eventually apply for citizenship.

The bulk of the money announced on Thursday will be spent by local government on programs to help with English language support and housing costs for new arrivals. The government will also launch 12 virtual regional offices to provide help with tasks like registering for healthcare and schools. 

These 'Welcome Hubs' will also provide advice on how to set up businesses in Britain.

"This program will ensure British National (Overseas) status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive, and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity,"  said communities minister Robert Jenrick.  

Britain says Chinese-imposed security laws and democracy reforms in Hong Kong have violated the terms of the agreement that saw the semi-autonomous city handed back to China in 1997. Ministers say the visa program is a way of honouring its side of that deal.

China has reacted angrily to the offer and says the West's views on its actions over Hong Kong are clouded by misinformation and an imperial hangover.

Since its launch in January, around 27,000 people had applied for the new visa as of 19th March. Although overall estimates of demand are uncertain, the government forecasts between 258,000 and 322,000 applicants over five years.

The program is open to 2.9 million people classed as British National (Overseas) - a special status that specifically relates to Hong Kong - and a further 2.3 million eligible dependents.