01/17/2011, 00.00
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Uphill battle for Hong Kong residency now over

After almost 12 years of debate, Hong Kong will grant mainland-born children of Hong Kong residents the right to abode. For some parents who have already passed away, this comes too late. Over the years, the Church took a stance against the injustice.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The row over mainland children with parents in Hong Kong is to end soon. After a long ban, the government of the former British crown colony will allow adult children to join their families in Hong Kong, starting in April.

The right of abode has been on the public agenda for the past 12 years, because of the large number of Hong Kong residents with children and spouses in the mainland. The issue to be addressed was whether residents could bring their families to the territory, and whether they were subject to Hong Kong or Chinese law.

Everything began in 1999 when Hong Kong's courts granted mainland children born to Hong Kong parents the right of residency, thus recognising the principle of family reunification. However, the Hong Kong government, then led by pro-Beijing Tung Chee-hwa, declared its opposition, claiming that almost two million people could exercise that right. In fact, only some 200,000 could.

To stop the expected flood, Hong Kong authorities turned to Beijing, asking for a reinterpretation of the Basic Law and the right of abode, which Beijing interpreted restrictively. This led to a situation where the children of many Hong Kong residents were declared “illegal.”

In 1999, the Hong Kong Church issued a pastoral letter, very critical of the government, written by Card John Baptist Wu, then the bishop of Hong Kong, and his aides, Auxiliary Bishops Zen and Tong.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong unveiled the new policy in Beijing.

Right of abode campaigners welcome it as a step in the right direction, but complained that the arrangement has come too late for many families, as parents died in the intervening years.

Activists also want an apology from Hong Kong officials who prevented so many from having the right of abode for so long.

Under the new arrangement, adult children of Hongkongers born on the mainland who were under 14 when one of their natural parent obtained a Hong Kong identity card before 1 November 2001 will be eligible to apply residency.

Government officials estimate it will take about six months for applicants to get through the process.

One of the reasons for the change in policy is Hong Kong’s falling birth rate. Between 2005 and 2009, the local population grew by 0.7 per cent. In 2009, its birth rate was also one of the lowest in the world, at 11.7 per thousand in 2009.

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