Australia considering safe haven for HK residents

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Australia is "actively considering" offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents to come to the country after controversial national security laws imposed by China came into effect, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, ABC News reports.

Asked whether he was disturbed bythe crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong and whether Australia would offer safe haven for residents, Morrison said: "the answer to both questions is yes and yes".

"We are considering [it] very actively and there are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago," he said. "The final touches will be put on those and they'll soon be considered by Cabinet to provide similar opportunities [to what the UK has offered].

"We think that's important and very consistent with who we are as a people and very consistent practically with the views that we have expressed."

He would not elaborate on whether that would include permanent settlement for Hong Kong residents.

"When we have made a final decision on those arrangements I'll make an announcement, but if you're asking are we prepared to step up and provide support, the answer is yes," he said.

The Morrison Government has stressed that Hong Kong residents fearing political persecution can already apply for protection under Australia's existing humanitarian program.

But it has also been exploring alternative pathways to residency for people in Hong Kong.

This might include a special humanitarian intake like the one provided to 12,000 Syrian refugees in 2015.

Several government backbenchers have been fiercely critical of Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong and have been strong advocates for a resettlement program.

But creating a special protection program for Hong Kong residents would further inflame tensions between Australia and China.

Beijing responded angrily when the United Kingdom first raised the prospect of taking refugees from Hong Kong, accusing Britain of harbouring a "colonial mindset" and demanding they stop "interfering in China's internal affairs".

One Australian Government source has previously told the ABC that several Five Eyes nations may move in concert to provide humanitarian visas to Hong Kong residents in order to blunt any response from Beijing.