London [UK], April 8 (ANI): The UK government has launched a 43 million pound (USD 59.6 million) package to support British National (Overseas) families that settle in the country, funding local councils nationwide to help the new arrivals from Hong Kong with housing, education and employment who are escaping the region since China imposed the draconian security law.
According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), the scheme, announced on Thursday, comes after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to four Hong Kong families that moved to the country on a special visa for those with BN(O) status last month.
Under the new integration programme, 30.7 million British Pounds will go to councils across England, to provide help for the arrivals, covering English language and housing support for those in need. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will deliver similar policies with a budget of 5.8 million British Pounds.
A further 5 million British Pounds will be used to establish 12 "virtual" welcome hubs across the country, with funding for projects such as local helplines giving advice and assistance on issues related to daily life, such as school admission, registering with a doctor, and starting a business.
SCMP further reported that The UK government will also provide dedicated Hong Kong educational resources for schools to teach pupils about the historic connection between Britain and its former colony.
The UK introduced the new visa last year in response to Beijing's imposition of the repressive national security law on Hong Kong, an act London described as a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the city's handover in 1997.
The news outlet reported that close to 5.4 million Hongkongers out of the city's 7.5 million population are eligible under the visa programme to stay in Britain for up to five years, with the right to work and study, and to apply for citizenship after six years. As of mid-March, the British government had received 27,000 applications since the scheme was launched in late January.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would live up to its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong and do everything in its power to ensure their success and happiness in Britain. He also established an interministerial group which would consider issues including access to public services, opportunities and safety for new arrivals.
"This programme will ensure BN(O) status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive, and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity," said Jenrick, who spoke with four Hong Kong families through a video call on Tuesday, as quoted by SCMP.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the scheme was another important step in helping the new arrivals integrate and contribute to society. "It reflects our commitment to the people of Hong Kong - and those who have now chosen to start a new life here," he added.
The visa's launch in January sparked a diplomatic row, with China saying it would stop recognising BN(O) passports as travel and identification documents. Beijing also accused Britain of "obstinately and repeatedly hyping up the BN(O) passport issue to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs".
The national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong criminalises any act of secession (breaking away from China), subversion (undermining the power or authority of the central government), terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with punishments of up to life in prison. It came into effect from July 1. (ANI)