Hong Kong: A city that’s no longer home

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Darkus Yu had never considered leaving his home for almost half a century. But events last year changed his mind.

Al Jazeera documented the Yu family’s last four months in Hong Kong, their story a poignant perspective on why one family decided to move to a country where they do not speak the language and have few friends or job prospects rather than remain in Hong Kong.

Publication of this story was delayed upon their request.

‘I love this place’

The continuing crackdown on political dissent and the overhaul of the education system since China introduced a sweeping National Security Law at the end of June 2020 finally forced him into a life-changing decision.

“Hong Kong is a place where I grow up. I love this place. But the government has been destroying this city…such as the history and education system. This city has been torn into pieces and is no longer recognisable,” Yu said.

The Yus were a typical middle-class family in Hong Kong. Yu and his wife, Esther Law lived in their own flat and had stable jobs with decent incomes working as an animator and executive assistant.

But for the sake of their six-year-old twins Grace and Jayden, the couple decided to sacrifice everything they had in Hong Kong and emigrate to Birmingham, UK, hoping for a better life in a country none of them has ever been to.

“We will not leave Hong Kong if we do not have kids,” Yu said. “I am not confident with the education system in Hong Kong now. The patriotic education equals brainwashing.”

The Yus were unsettled by the Education Bureau’s decision in October 2020 to disqualify a teacher who had been accused of promoting Hong Kong independence.

The Hong Kong government subsequently announced controversial changes, renaming the Liberal Studies subject, which it blamed for helping stoke the 2019 protests, as “Citizen and Social Development”. In addition, children as young as six will now be given lessons in “national security” and be expected to sing China’s National anthem.

‘It is torture to stay in Hong Kong’

“Since the introduction of National Security Law, the political situation here is rapidly deteriorating. We are worried about the future of Hong Kong, also my twins’ future. We want to leave as soon we can,” Yu told Al Jazeera before the move.

The couple had a lot to weigh up: the cost, the education system, language problems, and the paperwork to enter the United Kingdom, which is now offering as many as three million people in Hong Kong the chance to move to Britain and eventually secure citizenship.

Meanwhile, the government has continued its political crackdown.

Pro-democracy legislators and activists have been arrested and prosecuted. Many opposition figures – including veteran opposition legislator Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai – were put on trial. Beijing also announced an overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system, in which all candidates would be vetted to ensure that only “patriots” would be able to run the city.

For Yu, the developments only served to vindicate his family’s decision to go… and soon. They brought forward their departure to mid-March 2021.

“It is torture to stay in Hong Kong nowadays if you do not support the government. I have no choice but to leave because the events here are disheartening. We are being pushed to the edge of the cliff and there is no way back,” he said.

Yu said he would not miss Hong Kong. There was nothing to make them stay any more. This city was no longer their home.