Disclaimer: The events described in this article are continually developing. Wessex Scene will endeavour to update this article with new information should the situation for UoS exchange students in Hong Kong change. WARNING; the images below may be upsetting for some readers.
In an email sent out by the International Office, all exchange students from Southampton currently studying in Hong Kong have been requested to return home immediately. This comes after violent clashes between police and students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) campuses over the weekend. The request is compulsory.
The University Of Hong Kong (HKU), where a number of Southampton students are enrolled, also announced the cancellation of all remaining classes for the rest of the semester. The HKU campus, on Hong Kong Island, has been the site of recent barricades and protest activity, blocking roads and entrance points to the campus by students. Late on Tuesday, these barricades were on fire. The University of Southampton has made this decision with well-being and safety of their exchange students as their ‘primary concern’, despite no change to the FCO official travel advice to Hong Kong. Police in Hong Kong, however, claim the territory is ‘on the brink of collapse’.
A Southampton student on exchange at HKU got in contact to talk about how ‘intense’ the situation is in the city centre and at University. “[…] campus itself is completely destroyed, windows and walls have been smashed”. The police have been present in and around the University recently, with the barricades not stopping them getting in, the student claimed. The student has seen the recent peaceful protests but claims Southampton made the decision to request for their return soon after the violence began. “No one thought it would escalate this badly” the student despaired, also noting they had “no idea what’s happening for the rest of the year”. Despite this, the student believes both HKU and Southampton have made the best decision to recall students.
These recent clashes are a continuation of protests beginning in late March of this year, and occurring every weekend since June. The activities have become increasingly violent, with petrol bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets now being used by police and protestors alike – including at CUHK campus this week. They originated over a proposed extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to China. Although this bill was scrapped in September, this has been seen by many as an example of the mainland Chinese government’s attempts to exert increasing influence over Hong Kong, ever since the handover in 1997. Bills such as this could potentially be a breach of the 50 year agreement in place between the UK and China.
Protests have continued this week, mainly driven by students, and are campaigning for the ‘Five Demands’ which include an independent judicial system, voting freedoms and the resignation of Carrie Lam; the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Excessive police force, such as the shooting of protestors and persistent use of tear gas, has drawn international attention. Swiss residents in Lucerne have called on their government to abandon their free-trade agreement with China, whilst many university student unions in the UK and America have stated their ‘solidarity’ with the Hong Kong protestors.
The immediate future is uncertain for returning Southampton students; whether they will resume their exchange programmes next semester or not is also unclear. The University has stated it will cover the necessary fees for the return of the students, but the true extent of disruption this announcement will have in the context of the exchange students’ degrees is not yet known. What is certain is the continued uncertainty in Hong Kong; a beautifully complex city enduring violence and oppression that the region, nor its people, will ever deserve.