August 21, 2019 5:30 am
Updated: August 21, 2019 7:25 am

‘I really can’t bear it anymore’: Hong Kong residents considering exodus abroad

WATCH: The protests in Hong Kong aren't just about democracy, they're also about economics. The city has a housing crisis, with many people living in poverty.

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A growing number of Hong Kong residents are considering moving abroad to countries such as Canada following over two months of mass pro-democracy protests and clashes with police.

The demonstrations began over fears Beijing is attempting to tighten its grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

“I have two kids. I’m thinking about the quality of life,” said Eric, a Hong Kong fashion designer who requested his last name not be published, citing the potential for backlash against his family. He recently submitted his application for a Canadian work visa, explaining that he is worried about Beijing restricting his family’s freedom.

“I think you can find a lot more freedom in Canada.”

A sea of umbrellas filled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, as pro-democracy protesters gathered for the 11th consecutive weekend on Aug. 18, 2019.

Jeff Semple / Global News

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Steve, another Hong Kong resident, is one of around 300,000 Canadian passport-holders living in Hong Kong — the largest diaspora in any city outside of Canada. After living for several years in Ontario, he moved back to his native Hong Kong in 1983 — but he’s now considering pulling a U-turn.

“It’s terrible. I really can’t bear it anymore,” he said, referring to the regular protests and police firing tear gas in his neighbourhood. “If the conditions keep getting worse and worse and worse, I may consider going back [to Canada].”

“People are very disappointed,” said John Hu, who runs a migrant consultancy firm that helps clients with their foreign work visa applications.

“They’re looking for opportunity elsewhere by immigrating to Australia and Canada, which are the top destinations for Hong Kong people.”

In recent months, Hu says, the number of enquiries he’s received from people looking to leave the semi-autonomous region has doubled.

“Before June, when we answered calls, they were thinking about immigration,” he said.

“But now, we are taking calls from people who are already determined to migrate.

“We always have a saying that Hong Kong is a good place to make money but not necessarily a good place to live. And the protests and the [proposed extradition bill] were basically the catalyst to make people more determined to leave Hong Kong.”

This cramped “subdivided” apartment in Hong Kong is infested with bed bugs but still costs more than $700 Canadian per month to rent.

Global News

The roots of the city’s summer of discontent run far deeper than this latest controversy. Hong Kong is home to a combustible combination of the world’s highest housing prices, longest work hours and a population where around one in five people lives below the poverty line.

“This is why the people feel angry,” said Gordon Chick, a community organizer with the human rights group Society for Community Organisation.

Chick showed Global News an example of a so-called “subdivided” apartment. The extremely cramped, 10-square-metre space has a bed bug infestation, and a single mother pays the equivalent of $700 Canadian per month for rent. More than 200,000 Hong Kong residents live in subdivided apartments. Some are so small they’ve been dubbed “cages.”

“Some people say that Hong Kong is sick,” Chick said. “The housing situation is very bad.”

A Hong Kong entrepreneur is selling these bed “capsules,” which can be stacked on top of each other so that several people can share a single room and maintain a degree of privacy.

Galaxy Stars HK

To share the rent, some tenants squeeze as many beds into a single apartment as they can fit. The average living space per person in Hong Kong is about the size of a parking space.

Hong Kong entrepreneur Eric Wong produces “capsule” beds. They’re shaped sort of large a large coffin and come complete with a bed, smoke detector and even built-in Wi-Fi. The capsules can be stacked on top of each other, allowing several people to share a single room with a degree of privacy.

“They have a big market,” Wong said while providing a tour of one apartment that houses 11 tenants.

“Housing in Hong Kong is very, very expensive. People save their whole lives and can’t afford to buy one,” he said. In Hong Kong, the median price of a house is more than 20 times the annual median household income.

As a result, Hong Kong’s younger generation feels it has little to lose by staging regular protests and fighting back against what it sees as worsening living standards and growing repression by Beijing.

READ MORE: Meet the Canadians standing with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong

“For a lot of Hong Kong people, especially youngsters, they have the idea that the situation in Hong Kong is bad enough,” said Francis Lee, a professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “If this movement fails, if this movement does not succeed in achieving anything, the situation is hell anyway.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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