Most University of B.C. students out or leaving Hong Kong amid turmoil

VANCOUVER — The University of British Columbia said it has cancelled its second term for exchange students in Hong Kong while it ensures the remainder of its students in the protest-racked region can get out.

The university said 31 of its students were attending four universities in Hong Kong, where protests have grown increasingly violent, and now 20 of them have left the area.

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Vice-president for student affairs Ainsley Carry said the remaining 11 students are safe and accounted for with six having firm departure plans, two working on travel plans and three staying in the area with family.

The students are being offered $1,000 in emergency funds to help them in their travels and the university said 27 of them have accepted the cash.

"We are working with our partner institutions and universities in Hong Kong to determine if our students can complete their term from a distance, to ensure that they receive the academic credit that they have worked so hard for," Carry said.

The majority of the students on exchange in Hong Kong this term had not planned to remain there in the second term, said Laurinda Tracey, UBC's advisor for student safety abroad.

The university said it will work with students affected by the cancellation of the second exchange term to provide options that will include switching to another university or deferring or withdrawing from their exchange.

Last week, Hong Kong Polytechnic University became the latest battle ground in protests that began peacefully in June before turning violent with clashes between police and protesters. Police blockaded the university after hundreds of students occupied the campus.

UBC does not have a partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic and it's not one of the universities that was hosting UBC students in Hong Kong, Tracey said.

The universities that UBC is partnered with have gone "above and beyond" to support UBC students, including helping to arrange for short-term accommodation, Tracey added.

"We'll keep that in mind, and we'll continue to monitor and just keep an eye out for when things become safe again for students to resume activity," she said.

UBC does not have any information about what events its students may or may not have been participating in, Carry said.

Protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory were sparked by a proposed bill that would have allowed certain criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face charges, a move that opponents viewed as a blow to Hong Kong's legal independence.

The bill has been suspended, but the protests have grown to include demands such as universal suffrage when electing Hong Kong's leaders, amnesty for protesters who have been arrested and an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.

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