There has been a spike in Hong Kong residents applying for political asylum in Australia, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison considers offering citizens from the Special Administrative Region safe haven visas.
Protests erupted after the new national security laws were introduced on Tuesday.
The rules prohibit political views and symbols supporting Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence.
As a result, Britain has offered nearly three million Hong Kong residents the right to settle in Britain and apply for citizenship.
But there are concerns China may try to block residents from travelling to Britain.
If this happens, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be little that could be done to “coercively force” China.
And the Chinese Embassy in Britain said Beijing reserved the right to take “corresponding measures” and urged Britain against “interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way”.
Hong Kong has been rocked by violent scenes with more than 300 people already arrested.
Pro-democracy group Australia-Hong Kong Link has seen a huge spike in people contacting them for information on various Australian visas since the national security law passed.
The group says it is in the process of helping 12 citizens apply for protection status.
“There has been an increasing number of inquiries from people in HK right now, as well as people here already,” said one Hong Kong citizen who studies in Australia and volunteers with the group.
“Most of them would like to know about what kind of visas they can apply for. Some of them are looking for a protection visa. Some of them are looking at skilled migration.
“For political asylum, we’re helping more than a dozen.”
In March, there were 27 Hong Kong citizens who applied for Australian protection visas, followed by 17 in April, according to government data.
It almost triples the number for the same time in 2019.
Many Hong Kongers in Australia and active in pro-democracy protests say they are scared to go home.
“In Australia, we’re safe and protected,” said one member from the Hong Kong international alliance, who has just finished his studies in Queensland.
“Even though I’m a Hong Kong citizen, I’m scared if I go back I might face penalties and imprisonment. We’re keeping up the fight here.
“It’s definitely frightening and scary.”
Many of his friends are talking about applying to stay in Australia, but he said he would return home.
“I want to go back. My family is there and I love my home,” he said.
“It’s either death or freedom. There’s no turning back. The Hong Kong people will keep on fighting.”
A survey taken in 2019 after violent clashes with police revealed almost 43 per cent of people said they were considering immigrating.
Of those, a quarter said they had prepared for a move.
Australia was voted the second most popular destination behind Canada.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison said he was prepared to ‘‘step up and provide support’’ for Hong Kong citizens who wish to come to Australia.
Labelling the situation ‘‘very concerning’’, he said his government was working on a scheme to provide safe haven visas.
“We do find these events very concerning and we have been very clear about our statements on that in concert with many other nations,” he said.
“We are considering [the issue] very actively and there are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago and the final touches are being put on those and they’ll soon be considered by cabinet to provide similar opportunities.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne expressed deep concern about the ‘‘troubling’’ laws, saying they threatened Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the rights and freedoms of its people.
In return, the Chinese embassy in Canberra called on Australia to ‘‘stop meddling’’ in its affairs.
“Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs,” it said.
“The Chinese government is firmly determined to implement ‘one country, two systems’ and oppose foreign interference.
“We hope the Australian side take an objective and rational view on the legislation, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
The Chinese government has justified the laws as a necessity in restoring order in the city after more than 15 months of pro-democracy protests.
But the head of the Australia Institute’s international and security affairs program, Allan Behm, said it was all about control.
“The bill is about China asserting its authority over Hong Kong and making sure the citizens of Hong Kong are brought under Chinese law in the same way that people in mainland China are under Chinese law,” Mr Behm said.
“It defies the agreement reached with the Brits, where we were going to have one country, two systems for 50 years. That is because China is now able to incorporate Hong Kong and no one is going to stop it.
“Everyone can jump up and down and say it’s not in the spirit and they are perfectly right, but it’s like Russia taking over Crimea – they just do it and eventually everyone will accept it.”