London [UK], July 23 (ANI): London's Mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday sent a message of support to Hong Kong residents fleeing China's crackdown on democracy to seek new lives in the United Kingdom (UK).
In an interview, Mayor Khan said he was keen to send a message to Hong Kongers that London "will welcome you with open arms", reported ABC News.
"For me, it's quite clear we've got a moral obligation to help those from Hong Kong. But also, that's the history of London. We've been doing this for successive decades," he said.
More than 34,000 people have already applied for the visa, Khan said, though most have not yet arrived in the UK because of the pandemic, reported ABC News.
International travel has been severely restricted and Hong Kong was only added to England's "green list" of safe countries on Monday, meaning that people arriving from there do not need to quarantine on arrival unless they test positive.
"We think between a quarter and a third (of the arrivals) will choose London as their destination, but it's early days yet," Khan said in an interview.
Khan said in an interview that his office will spend 900,000 pounds (USD 1.2 million) to help new arrivals with housing, education and finding jobs, reported ABC News.
His office will use government funding and work with community groups to advise and help Hong Kongers navigate the challenges of finding housing, schools and jobs, he added.
After Britain's government introduced a new immigration pathway for those with a British National Overseas BN (O) passport to live and work in the country, Khan said London is expected to welcome the largest proportion of arrivals from Hong Kong to the UK this year.
The government estimated that about 123,000 to 153,000 people will take up the visa this year. The visa, which allows those eligible to apply for British citizenship after living in the UK for five years, was introduced last year after Beijing imposed a sweeping new national security law in Hong Kong.
The law prompted an exodus of many young people and families who say their hometown has been transformed beyond measure.
Beijing has strongly criticized Britain's offer as meddling in its domestic affairs. British authorities maintain they are keeping a promise to the people of Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, when it returned to Chinese rule as a semi-autonomous region that was supposed to enjoy civil liberties and freedoms not seen elsewhere on mainland China.
Since China implemented the new national security law in June, more than 100 pro-democracy supporters have been arrested and many others have fled abroad. The crackdown on dissent hardened in recent weeks, when Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to cease publication. (ANI)