I wanted to write this week about a positive change in Cheltenham that seems so far to have gone almost completely unnoticed: the arrival of HongKongers in our town who are fleeing the Chinese Government’s draconian National Security Law.
That security law, passed in 2020, effectively ended the ‘one country, two systems’ model that initially safeguarded the freedoms of HongKongers following the departure of the British in 1997. Since then, thousands have been arrested, hundreds imprisoned, and millions live in fear.
Our country lived up to its obligation and provided a haven for people from the former British colony. So I was delighted to address and welcome members of the local community at the Cheltenham branch of “HongKongers in Britain” at Bournside School recently.
Official figures showed that over 100,000 people applied for a British National (Overseas) visa during 2021. About three quarters of arrivals are looking beyond London, including to places such as Cheltenham.
Backed by over £43 million, the BNO Integration Programme is helping them to access housing, work and educational support so that they are able to integrate quickly and contribute to the Cheltenham community.
Councils like Cheltenham Borough Council are benefiting from £30.7 million to provide targeted support for new arrivals, covering additional English language classes and support with housing costs for those who need it. A further £5 million is being used to establish twelve virtual welcome hubs across every region in England, with our local base in Bristol. This is giving practical advice and assistance in applying for school places, registering with GPs and even setting up businesses.
I’d like to send my particular thanks to local churches. Although only about eleven per cent of Hongkongers are Christian, church communities and leaders in Cheltenham and across the UK have played a prominent role in helping the new migrants to settle.
HongKongers will make a great contribution to Cheltenham life, and I feel sure our welcome will be warm.