Protesters who fled to Canada from Hong Kong to escape the crackdown on public dissent and political opposition have set up a “lifeboat” group to support citizens leaving the city.
Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday that the Soteria Institute was founded to support Hongkongers seeking political asylum in Canada.
"This all began with the [attempt to] bring in legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2003," the organization’s co-founder, identified only as Alison, said. "Since then, if you watch what the CCP has been doing, it has never stopped trying [control ideology and activism using national security legislation and patriotic education]."
"This was already clear by 2012, with [the attempt to introduce] patriotic education in 2012," she said. "Rule of law has been gradually eroding, and freedoms have been gradually disappearing in Hong Kong all this time."
"The people are still there, but living under more and more restrictions," Alison stated. "We don't want Hong Kong [to] disappear, so I hope that Hongkongers who truly love their city will gather in other places, so they aren't totally scattered."
Canada began accepting political applications for political asylum from Hongkongers on February 21, 2021, with hundreds of applications processed in the first few weeks, Alison added.
More than 600 applications have been received to date, some of which have already arrived in the country, she said, noting that Soteria is currently supporting 10 of them.
Applicants are required to submit to medical examinations at designated clinics in Hong Kong, which have reported waiting lists as long as two months in comparison to a one-month wait in early March, suggesting that there has been a rise in numbers applying in recent weeks.
"You can get some well-known faces to talk about their experiences, but actually the way front-line protesters are treated on the ground is very different," Alison said.
"For example, a prominent activist gets detained for 48 hours, but police don't dare to leave him with serious injuries or broken ribs," she said. "But a lot of the front-line protesters wound up in hospital after their arrest, and then court."
"This is something that Canadian lawmakers don't really know about."
Alison added that her group has warned parliamentarians that due to recent changes in Hong Kong’s immigration laws, asylum-seekers may be prevented from leaving the city starting August 1.
The group is calling on Ottawa to speed up the application process to enable as many citizens to leave the city before the deadline.