McGill students in Hong Kong are all safe, university says

McGill University has been in touch with its 22 exchange students in Hong Kong and says they’re all safe.

“Some are going back to their home countries, some have elected to stay, and some have family nearby,” Cynthia Lee, a McGill spokesperson, said on Tuesday.

So far, McGill University is the only Canadian university that has reported a partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the campus at the centre of a tense police siege. Students will be allowed to complete their courses online or will be accommodated in other ways, Lee said.

Given the escalating clashes between government officials and pro-democracy protesters, McGill has encouraged its students to leave the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

At present, the Université de Montréal has no students in Hong Kong. However, two students in the faculty of urban planning are looking for another exchange program after the Université de Montréal cancelled the exchange, which was supposed to start in January.

The decision was made in consultation with the school’s office of international affairs.

“It was becoming too dangerous,” spokesperson Geneviève O’Meara said.

Dozens of Canadians remained in Hong Kong on Monday, according to several institutions reached by The Canadian Press — many of which said it would be in their students’ best interest to flee the violence.

But students at several schools have already begun heeding widespread warnings and cut their exchanges short.

The University of British Columbia said 11 of its 32 students completing programs in Hong Kong have already left the territory.

“Given the ongoing tensions in Hong Kong, the university has reached out to all UBC students studying in Hong Kong to discuss their options and ensure they feel safe and supported should they decide to leave,” UBC said in a statement. “Our recommendation to them is that they leave.”

Protests have been raging in Hong Kong since early June, but they have escalated in recent weeks and begun spilling over into post-secondary institutions that have opted to suspend classes early in a bid to curb the violence.

The protests started peacefully, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. But by the time the extradition bill was withdrawn, the protests had broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government.

Universities have become the latest battleground for the protesters, with a police blockade of Hong Kong Polytechnic University fuelling anger and prompting dramatic efforts to help students stuck inside.

The battle for control of the campus began last week as demonstrators fortified the campus to keep the police out. On Monday, cornered by security forces determined to arrest them, they desperately tried to get out but faced a cordon of officers armed with tear gas and water cannons.

Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University and the University of Toronto said officials have contacted all students on exchange in Hong Kong and are helping make travel arrangements for those who wish to leave.

While Queen’s issued a formal statement urging its 15 students to return to Canada, Simon Fraser and U of T did not. However, both schools say they’re working closely with their exchange students — numbering 17 and 20, respectively — to help them fly out of Hong Kong.

The University of Toronto said in a statement that it is “working closely with each partner organization and each student to determine the best approach for helping students stay safe and have a smooth academic transition plan.”

Global Affairs Canada says it is closely monitoring the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, but did not specifically address the circumstances facing students. The government is urging Canadians in the area to exercise “a high degree of caution” in their travels.

— With files from The Associated Press