Hong Kong residents who fled to UK criticize lack of mental health support | Immigration and Asylum

The UK is not doing enough to provide mental health support to thousands of Hong Kongers who have fled China’s increasingly authoritarian grip, according to advocacy groups and the politically displaced.

Tens of thousands of British National (Overseas) (BNO) residents and their dependents have been granted the right to live and work in the UK in 2021, following China’s introduction of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong and a swift crackdown on dissent.

However, those who have left say there is not enough support once they arrive in the UK.

After taking part in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Seffyr applied for a BNO visa as soon as the scheme started.

Almost a year later, he still fears being attacked by China’s national security law. He is awaiting a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assessment with the NHS and has been told there will be a two-year waiting period for treatment due to the pandemic backlog.

People often assume that those who arrive in the UK from Hong Kong are prosperous and have not been traumatized by their experiences, said Sephir, whose name has been changed. “It’s not the real story and nobody cares or thinks about it.”

The current scheme is only available to BNO passport holders born before 1997. However, the government plans to expand the scheme in October to cover Hong Kong residents aged between 18 and 24, who have been at the heart of the civil protests.

Sam Goodman, director of policy and advocacy at human rights NGO Hong Kong Watch, said that because Hong Kong residents were treated as an economic class rather than frontline human rights defenders with complex mental health needs, the government did not feel obligated to offer mental health services.

“It is in the government’s interest to ensure that people have the right mental health support so that they can actually get a job, be able to settle in the UK and contribute and integrate,” Goodman said. “It’s kind of overlooked right now.”

In February, the government allocated funding for 47 national and local projects to assist the resettlement of Hong Kongers. But Goodman says their complex needs likely won’t be met with little government funding.

According to a survey in May of new arrivals from Hong Kong, conducted by the civil society group Hongkongers in the UK and a researcher from the University of Cambridge, the majority of 658 respondents felt that living in the UK had improved their mental health in general. However, 25.8% reported anxiety symptoms and 23.8% reported PTSD symptoms.

Simon Cheng, a former British consular officer and founder of Hongkongers in Britain, said the true numbers were likely higher because of the stigma around discussing mental health. He said the government needed to do more to help new arrivals from Hong Kong settle in the UK and recover from the experience.

“[In] the NHS still lacks Cantonese-speaking staff, especially psychologists and mental health professionals, who not only can speak Cantonese, but could empathize or even show a basic understanding of what happened in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

There were 19,500 applications for BNO visas in the first quarter of this year, according to government figures, of which 18,563 were made from outside the UK. In total, there have been more than 120,000 applications since the immigration route opened in January last year.

However, not everyone has the luxury of getting a BNO visa. Krobus, a student at King’s College London, was forced to seek asylum in the UK after being on the front lines of the 2019 protests because she was ineligible for the government’s BNO scheme.

Since arriving in August, the 23-year-old has struggled with anxiety, depression and PTSD and has faced long NHS waiting lists to get help.

“Seeing these people with BNO walking around London sometimes makes me really angry,” said Krobus, whose name has been changed. “How on earth can you enjoy your new life here and I had to seek asylum and I don’t even have enough money to live on and I’ll probably be homeless soon.”

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A spokesman for the Department for Upskilling, Housing and Communities said it had supported tens of thousands of BNO holders settling in the UK through the new immigration route and the Welcome Programme.

“The program includes targeted English language provision and has funded 47 organizations to deliver national and regional projects for BNOs, including projects to support their emotional wellbeing and mental health needs,” the spokesperson said.

“The Government is changing the BNO route to allow adult children of BNO status holders who are currently unable to apply independently to do so.”

In the UK you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected] You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk

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