An estimated 1300 Hong Kong Indians are desperately seeking help from both India and Hong Kong for a passage back to the City of Victoria, the capital city of Hong Kong. The impasse has now turned into a diplomatic slugfest between the two nations.
Those stuck in India are known as Hong Kong Indians, they are Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) passport holders, and scattered across India.
In repeated interviews, they claimed they were unable to contact immigration officials in Hong Kong and worried about their status. Worse, the closure of Indian air space has added to their problems. They could leave India only if either Hong Kong or India organise charter flights. Or India decides to use some charter flights to send them home.
But no one is responding.
Half of those stuck are truck drivers, food supply chain workers, and cargo delivery agents. There are a number of students stuck across India. Bulk of them are holed up in Punjab, rest in other Indian states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal.
“We are in a state of panic because nothing is working, nothing is happening. We are helpless, we need help badly. Hundreds have lost jobs, and there is no effort from the Hong Kong government to evacuate us, nor there is help from the Indian government to fly us out,” says Pune-based Kavita Khosa who is trying hard to compile a list of Hong Kong Indians stuck across over 30 Indian cities. “Like me, they all wish to go back to the safety of their home and families,” Khosa said in an interview.
She said she has personally written to the Consul General of India in Hong Kong and also the attached petition which has been sent out to the authorities in Hong Kong through a newly-organised task force. Kosha said she is under lockdown alone in an apartment in Pune while her family is back home in Hong Kong.
“We have around 3 WhatsApp groups of 250 people in each group, all worried and concerned for their safety and desire to get back home. Many have lost their jobs because they have not been able to return to work. Many are food delivery boys now left jobless with no money. Many separated from their babies and children in sealed areas with no WiFi or access to laptops to seek help,” said Khosa.
Khosa moved to Hong Kong from India more than three decades ago. She considers herself a Hong Konger. She said that she was left with only six eggs, a watermelon, some vegetables and a packet of rice. Worse, supplies were scarce at nearby grocery stores.
Khosa says she doesn’t know why the Hong Kong government is refusing to evacuate its own people. She says she often wonders if this is some kind of racial profiling because Indians in Hong Kong are considered ethnic minority. There are approximately 40,000 people of Indian origin in Hong Kong.
A senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs said the Indian government was looking into the demands of the stranded Hong Kong Indians. “But the problem is there is no single, comprehensive list of these Hong Kong Indians. They are scattered all over India. India has had no such evacuation request from Hong Kong.”
The official said tracking all Hong Kong Indians from all over India is a herculean task, now made difficult because of the Covid-19 scare.
The Hong Kong Indians stuck in India are flustered because the Hong Kong Government recently evacuated some 60 Chinese who were on holiday in Peru and 26 Chinese from Morocco. But till date, the Hong Kong government has not responded to repeated pleas from Hong Kong Indians stranded in India. “The apathy of the Hong Kong government and the Indian Consulate in the City of Victoria is appalling,” said Khosa.
The South China Morning Post, meanwhile, said the Indian Consulate in Hong Kong was poised to work with the city’s government to fly stranded residents out of India, even as the Hong Kong administration remained non-committal.
“Some foreign governments have requested the government of India for permission to arrange special flights to bring back their nationals,” consul Ajith John Joshua told the daily.
“If the government of Hong Kong sends a similar proposal to the consul general of India in Hong Kong, we will process the proposal for obtaining necessary approvals from the government of India.”
The Hong Kong Security Bureau told the daily that the Immigration Department had provided “relevant information,” as well as “proper advice and practicable assistance” to those stranded in India.
An official of the Security Bureau told the newspaper that the Immigration Department had received 1,527 requests for help from Hong Kong residents stranded in 62 countries, with a “relatively large number” of them being stuck in Vietnam, Pakistan and the Philippines. It did not mention India.
“When necessary, the government of [Hong Kong] may render assistance in liaising with relevant airlines to reserve seats for the journey to return to Hong Kong, and where the circumstances so warrant, the government would assess the need to exceptionally charter a special flight for the return of stranded Hong Kong residents,” the official told the daily.
He added that factors to be considered included the ground situation in the countries, the availability of transport facilities, the number of Hong Kong residents involved and their locations, the feasibility for airlines to operate chartered flights in the countries, as well as the readiness and capacity of quarantine facilities in Hong Kong to receive the returning residents.
Mohan Chugani, a former president of the India Association in Hong Kong, said the government must come up with a plan to bring those stranded in India back home.
Chugani told the South China Morning Post that stranded city residents in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan were brought home on government-chartered flights much earlier because they were Chinese, accusing the government of “double standards” for dragging its feet over those in India.