PEOPLE starting new lives in the UK after leaving Hong Kong are being helped to adapt and integrate into the community at resettlement sessions in Emersons Green.
Around 1,500 to 2,000 people from Hong Kong have moved to South Gloucestershire since the UK government offered anyone with British National (Overseas) status living in the former colony the right to settle here in January 2021.
The move was announced by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the Chinese government increased repression in Hong Kong, imposing the National Security Law to restrict rights and freedoms, and arresting people who openly disagreed with its policies.
Up to three million people are believed to be eligible for a BNO passport and by the end of last year more than 100,000 had arrived in the UK.
South Gloucestershire has a thriving Hong Konger population, with Emersons Green and Lyde Green popular areas to live.
To help people resettle, government funding has been given to local councils to provide support and advice – not only for people arriving from Hong Kong but for refugees from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.
In South Gloucestershire, charity Julian House has been commissioned by the council to provide community support and integration hubs which hold regular sessions at Emersons Green Village Hall, Thornbury Methodist Church Hall and United Reformed Church and the Kingswood Estate.
They offer housing, health, employment and welfare support, information about services, classes, activities and opportunities to meet and socialise with others.
The sessions at Emersons Green Village Hall, which run from 1-3pm on Mondays and Thursdays are open to all “resettling communities”, but are mainly used by Hong Kongers living in Emersons and Lyde Green and further afield, from Downend to Yate.
On Mondays it is currently offering ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes, teaching people important phrases for everyday life, and on Thursdays it is running art sessions along with support and a chance to socialise.
When the Voice visited in October people were learning medical words, terms and phrases to help with visits to the GP or pharmacy.
Ivy Ho, who has lived in Lyde Green for 15 months after her family came to the UK from Hong Kong, said: “I’m using these lessons to teach me names of things, how to go to the GP – it’s very useful.
“I love England – this area is very convenient and safe.”
Vinci Lau and Ben Kwan have been in the UK for two years after leaving Hong Kong because of the political situation.
Ben said they came mainly to the sessions to make new friends among the other Hong Kongers who had moved to South Gloucestershire.
Vinci said: “Right now what’s challenging for us is the weather – it’s unbelievable!
“I can only have had less than a week wearing my shirt sleeves this summer – it’s totally different in Hong Kong.”
Also living in Lyde Green is Judy Luk, who said she had felt welcome since coming to the UK.
She said: “Before I came I worried about discrimination – when we reached Europe we heard that some countries don’t like Chinese people.
“The English are very good to Hong Kong people – they are very friendly when I go shopping or to the bank. Maybe they know why Hong Kongers need to come to England – the history and the political situation.”
Julian House Hong Kong community link worker Wylie Choi is herself from Hong Kong, having arrived in the UK a year ago, and now helps others – some of whom made the journey before she did – to settle in.
She said: “I think all of them are settling in well.
“Our lifestyle and the food we eat is very similar to what we have in Hong Kong.
“The weather is quite different – they have to get used to the colder climate in the area.”
Wylie said the support hub in Emersons Green was mainly used by middle aged and older people, as younger generations found it easier to integrate via school and work.
She said: “We’re very grateful for the UK Government to give us the choice to live here.”
Julian House Refugee hub coordinator Isabelle Monk said that by the beginning of October more than 400 visits had been made to sessions at the village hall.
She said: “We’ve been trying to plan and listen to the community, understand what they need and adapt to that. The service is still developing.
“It’s different in different areas – in Thornbury attendees are 100% Ukrainian, although all of our hubs are open to all refugees and people seeking sanctuary.
“It’s good we have the resources to be able to make people feel welcome.”
The hub sessions are open for anyone from a resettling community to drop in to.
For more information on hubs call 0117 332 7960, email Hubenquiries@julianhouse.org.uk or email@example.com.