“Tear gas & rubber bullets”: Queen’s student caught in Hong Kong campus protests

University confirms contact with 15 students on exchange in Hong Kong 

Documents supplied by a confidential source show CUHK's response to last week's unrest.

What was meant to be an opportunity to learn Mandarin abroad was cut short when Kelsey—a Queen’s student whose name has been changed to protect her identity—found herself entrenched in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.

In recent days, the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong has worsened as violence between police and demonstrators shifted to university campuses around the city. On Nov. 17, Queen’s issued a statement urging all 15 students on exchange in Hong Kong to return to Canada.

Kelsey, who is on exchange at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), recalled the day protests first poured onto campus at 8 a.m. on Nov. 11.

“It was an ordinary day for me,” she said. “I walked to class, but I didn’t see the teacher. She comes a little bit earlier so that seemed a little bit unusual.”

Eventually, university staff arrived to inform Kelsey and her peers violence had broken out on campus. At 9 a.m., Kelsey received an email saying classes were cancelled for the rest of the day.

Later, she noticed groups of students wearing masks around campus. It wasn’t long before Kelsey heard two students had an altercation with a police officer that sent students rushing back to their dormitories. Before the end of the evening, CUHK emailed students announcing class cancellations for the following day.

Through a confidential source, The Journal obtained emails sent by CUHK to students, warning them of the escalating situation.

“Considering the worsening social unrest, the severely affected public transport services, and that repairs to the damaged facilities on campus takes time, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) announces that classes will be cancelled tomorrow,” the email read.

By Tuesday morning, Kelsey received another email informing students of further class cancellations. The email said a group of individuals damaged the gate locks of the school gym and took bows, arrows, and javelins.

As the protests continued, Kelsey said international students were told to contact their respective embassies for assistance. However, following limited instructions from CUHK, Kelsey contacted the Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety organization. While she eventually reached a representative, the 13-hour time difference made contacting Queen’s difficult.

“I’m going to sit tight until I figure out a plan,” Kelsey said as she recalled the events of the week.

However, on the evening of Nov. 13, her situation became urgent when CUHK announced the cancellation of the full term of classes and began to pressure students to leave campus.
Kelsey said uncertainty ensued.
“We did not get clear information of what was going on,” she said. “Most of all the information that we got was through the group chats.” 
“There was a lot of misinformation,” Kelsey added, “We had trouble getting formal fact-checked information about what was going on and we didn’t get any news on the incident until only two days after it started.” 
In a written statement sent to The Journal, Queen’s said it’s been in contact with all 15 of its exchange students in Hong Kong to confirm they are safe. 
“We are also in contact with our partner institutions in Hong Kong, other Canadian universities with students situated there, and Global Affairs Canada, as we actively monitor the situation.” 
Queen’s has also initiated an emergency support program under the Off-Campus Activity Safety Policy (OCASP) and is working with International SOS to keep students informed about the security services available to them.
In an email sent to The Journal on Nov. 22, Mark Erdman, manager of community relations and issues, said all but one of the 15 Queen's exchange students in Hong Kong had made arrangements to leave or reported they were currently travelling outside of Hong Kong.
"At last report all but one of the 15 students were making arrangements to leave or reported they were currently travelling outside of Hong Kong. One has extended family in the area and feels safe enough to remain with them. All students travelling to Hong Kong were required to complete a safety planning record and register with the OCASP program prior to travelling outside Canada. The situation and the students are tracked under that program," the email read. 
"Within the OCASP there is an Emergency Support Program which was also activated last week, whereby students were contacted to ensure they were safe, and see what they needed in terms of support. The university is able to provide 24 hour support through International SOS to ensure the students have appropriate assistance on the ground to assess the situation and making travel plans or changes if the students need help."
In a written statement to The Journal, Francis Tse, ArtSci ’10, who is based in Hong Kong, urged foreign students to temporarily stop travelling to Hong Kong or China for academic exchange due to the political unrest and current diplomatic tensions between Canada and China. 
“The reason is simple in Hong Kong’s context, universities can no longer guarantee safety of students because the government can no longer control the police force,” he wrote. “Police can now use unchecked, indiscriminate, and lethal force on anyone they deem a threat.”
Tse added it’s right for universities in Hong Kong to end the semester early.
“I believe there are very few options. My only thoughts would be to provide legal support to students who are arrested, or emotional support through counselling services as the ongoing unrest has caused a very negative impact to psychological wellbeing to the people of Hong Kong,” he said. 
“As a Canadian-Hong Konger myself, the past few months has made me reflect on how valuable the freedom and democracy Canadians have at home is. Many, including Hong Kongers, are still fighting with their lives for these values.”
This story has been updated with a statement from the University.

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