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Hong Kong protests

US bill grants refugee status to Hong Kong protesters

Lawmakers introduce bipartisan legislation following UK offer of citizenship

Joshua Wong greets Reps. Thomas Souzzi (D-NY) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) before testifying at a Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in September 2019.    © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that would give refugee status to Hong Kongers fearing political persecution from Beijing, after China enacted a mainland-style national security law in the former British colony.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, would grant Priority 2 Refugee status to Hong Kongers "who peacefully protested Beijing's corrupt justice system, and have a well-founded fear of persecution," its sponsors said in a news release. There will be no limit to the number of Hong Kong residents who qualify.

Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez, Todd Young, Ben Cardin and Jeff Merkley were joined by China hawk Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in introducing the Senate bill. In the House, Republicans John Curtis and Mike Gallagher teamed with Democrats Tom Suozzi and Jim McGovern to submit the companion legislation.

The bill came as Hong Kong authorities made their first arrests on Wednesday as the new security law, drawn up and passed in Beijing, went into effect.

City police have warned protesters that displaying banners and flags or chanting could result in arrests and charges, as they constitute acts of "subversion" and "succession," which are criminalized under the new law.

Earlier that day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his government's intent to offer a path to citizenship for Hong Kong citizens with British National Overseas status.

China's imposition of the security law was "a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," Johnson told members of the parliament on Wednesday.

"It violates Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration," he said.

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