• Sun
  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 12:20pm

UK was escape hatch for New Territories' poor

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am

Of all the Chinese who have emigrated from Hong Kong to the UK, the vast majority have been from the New Territories.

In her 38 years in Northern Ireland, Anna Lo, the first Chinese woman to become a lawmaker in Europe, has come into contact with many of them in her extensive work with ethnic minorities, and has no doubt as to why they left their place of birth.

'At the time, the British government didn't see fit to improve the conditions for the people living in the New Territories,' she said.

'There was a lack of incentive to develop it compared to Hong Kong Island, so people there felt they were being left behind and it brought resentment. It was very primitive, and they could not compete for jobs with people in other areas of Hong Kong.'

Many who emigrated in the 1960s had no electricity or running water at home, and left to better their lives, Lo explained. In fact, many came from the same few villages, which whole families left.

'There were not many Chinese in Belfast in the 1970s, and the majority of them were from the New Territories and had very little English,' Lo said.

'I started up the first English class for Chinese residents in 1978. I realised how isolated they were because of the language barrier. They needed help.'

Now, Lo said, there was a new wave of immigrants from the mainland. More people are needed who speak Putonghua, so the majority of Chinese interpreters in Northern Ireland now do so.

Initially, Hongkongers went to the big cities, such as London and Birmingham, and worked for established Chinese restaurants. But there were soon too many Chinese restaurants in these places, so entrepreneurs branched out into virgin ground like Northern Ireland to start their own restaurants.

Once they settled, they would bring their relatives out to help them. The Chinese community has been the largest ethnic community in Northern Ireland since the early 1970s, when none of the fast-food chains wanted to set up there because of the troubles.

'That's why today the Chinese community is very well respected by the locals in Northern Ireland,' Lo said.

'They continued to come here when no one else would and stuck with the locals through thick and thin. Their work ethic is huge as well.'

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