international students Hong Kong
International students are leaving Hong Kong as political tensions worsen. Source: Shutterstock

As the protests in Hong Kong heat up and bring the city to a standstill, Chinese mainland students, as well as other international students, are feeling the brunt.

What started as out as a peaceful demonstration has taken an ugly turn, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong being one of the worst affected areas when it was recently turned into a fiery battleground of police clashes with student protesters.

The protests started back in June when a controversial extradition law was proposed, which has been withdrawn.

The issue has since escalated with scores of Hong Kong youth and adults demanding for democracy reforms and protesting other injustices.

According to Straits Times, “Mainland Chinese students studying in Hong Kong are fleeing across the border to Shenzhen as protesters wage an ongoing battle with police that’s turned the grounds of one top university into a smoking battlefield.

“They are being helped to escape the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) – the site of the most serious confrontation between police and protesters this week – by supportive Chinese nationals and China’s Communist Youth League.”

A number of serious injuries and at least one death has occurred due to the clash with protestors and police.  Schools are closed and major universities have suspended classes, opting for online lectures instead to keep students from travelling to classes, and office workers are joining “lunchtime protests”.

The tensions got worse and protesters started calling for revenge, angered over police brutality when a student, Alex Chow, died on Friday after he fell from a parking garage during the protests – the first official casualty.

According to NYTimes, “Two Hong Kong university campuses cut their semesters short on Wednesday because of widening unrest, as residents navigated severe transit disruptions and office workers brawled with the police in the heart of the financial district.

“A day after young demonstrators staged a fiery standoff against the police on the fringes of a university campus, classes were called off there on Wednesday for the remainder of the fall semester.

“CUHK also became one of at least two Hong Kong universities to announce that on-campus classes would be canceled for the remainder of the fall semester. The other, Hong Kong Baptist University, said in an email to students and staff that on-campus classes would be postponed or conducted online.”

Why international students are fleeing Hong Kong

Many students are being asked to leave for their own safety, while others are choosing to leave on their own accord after fearing the worst.

CUHK undergraduate Leo Lin told Straits Times, “I didn’t want to leave at the beginning. I wanted to go to classes today. But the atmosphere deteriorated quickly, and I suddenly felt the urge to leave.”

He is staying in Shenzhen with some friends, hoping to return to complete his final examinations in December when things cool down.

According to Straits Times, “By Mr Lin’s estimation, only about a hundred mainland undergraduates still remain on the CUHK campus. Students from City University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have also fled, he said.”

While Chinese students are personally affected because of the political clashes between Hong Kong and China, international students from other countries are also being asked to leave.

South China Morning Post reported, “Maya Boehm, an American exchange student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has her bags packed to fly home at a moment’s notice.

“On Tuesday, St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, told the 20-year-old that she and her classmates had been summoned home to “ensure the continued safety and security of our students” after chaotic clashes the previous night between anti-government protesters and police on the CUHK campus.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported, “Several Nordic students at Hong Kong Baptist University were being moved after anti-government demonstrators moved on to its grounds, and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) urged its 36 students in Hong Kong to return home.”

It’s unclear what’s going to happen in the coming days, and it’s incredibly sad to see such a diverse and thriving city engaged in such violent political clashes. The fact that students’ academic experiences are being affected and it’s unknown when their studies can resume is distressing.

International students are advised to stay safe indoors and return home if they fear for their personal safety in Hong Kong.

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