Amid recent protests in Hong Kong between pro-democracy protesters and Chinese authorities, University of Kent students have been told to fly back to the United Kingdom from their exchange year.
Dean for Internationalisation, Anthony Manning, had met with Kent students in Hong Kong last week.
“We encouraged students to come home for their own wellbeing,” Manning said.
It was reported that fifteen students had been there at the time, one of them on a work placement.
“It feels, at the moment, best to withdraw them,” Manning admitted.
The University of Kent has paid for the students’ flights, and Manning clarified that students’ grades would not be affected.
Speaking to InQuire, Omolade Adedapo, Vice-President (Welfare and Community) of Kent Union, said they were “working with the University to make sure students are safe”, although she did admit that no concrete plans were in place.
Adedapo added that the Union were being “very careful to make a stance” because it is a “new matter”.
She said that they “don’t want to make the situation a political matter”. However, she did say that she will be trying her very hardest to attend the political talk and solidarity march for Hong Kong, scheduled for Thursday 21 November by the International Students Network.
President, Sasha Langeveldt, described the situation as “very tense”.
The International Students Network claimed, on the Facebook page for the event, “The situation in Hong Kong has been deteriorating over the past few months and for many, it’s been a very difficult time studying abroad.”
The society stated the event was “to show...support for our Hong Kong student community and the people of HK who are currently undergoing a very difficult time”.
They, however, clarified that “this event does not aim to pick sides but hopes to bring people together to show support for people whose lives have been impacted by the events unfolding in HK”.
On Wednesday, the Chinese University of Hong Kong said it had cancelled classes for the rest of term after violent incidents broke out between police and student protesters.
The External Communications Officer of the University of Kent's Chinese Society, Yulu Li, is "deeply sorry and saddened about the current situation in Hong Kong".
She added: "I have friends there who fear to go outdoors and even plan to fly back to their own countries. My say definitely cannot represent the whole Chinese community here in Kent, but what I can deliver is our sincere hope for the unbreakable union between mainland and Hong Kong."
Hong Kong is an autonomous territory under Chinese rule and was handed over from British colonial rule in 1997.
The revelation comes five months after protests broke out in Hong Kong against plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
Even though the bill was retrieved in September, protests have been ongoing. Demonstrators have demanded full democracy, saying the retraction of the bill was “too little, too late”.
The protesters have five demands, among which the withdrawal of the bill. While this demand has been met, people in the streets of Hong Kong still call for amnesty for arrested protesters, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, implementation of complete universal suffrage, and for the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”.
The protests have been linked with at least eleven deaths, nine of which were by suicide. In five of these cases, victims have left notes relating their suicide to the political situation.
Outrage over alleged police brutality during the protests has also broken out over the death of a 22-year-old student, Alex Chow Tsz-Lok, who fell from the third floor of a building during a police dispersal operation on 4 November 2019.
International support rose for the protesters in Hong Kong, especially after images of the police beating protesters surfaced on social media.
Support rallies for Hong Kong have been organised, most notably in the UK, US, Canada, France, and Australia.
The University of Kent Hong Kong Society have been approached for comment.
More to follow.