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HKFP History: Mainland refugees fleeing famine are rejected by British Hong Kong

As war and famine ravaged the mainland, hundreds of thousands fled to British Hong Kong during the 40s, 50s and 60s.

refugees hong kong

LIFE Magazine captured the experiences of some of these migrants in an issue from May, 1962.

refugees hong kong

Some had travelled thousands of miles to begin a new life in the British colony. Meanwhile, the US welcomed only skilled workers.

refugees hong kong

A quick cigarette before being returned to the mainland…

Many refugees, however, were sent straight back to the mainland.

Sympathetic Hong Kongers lined the streets throwing food parcels into departing trucks destined for the border.

Hong Kong based historian Frank Dikötter estimated that, at a minimum, 45 million people died from starvation, overwork and state violence during the Great Leap Forward.

refugees hong kong

Many of those who were accepted into Hong Kong ended up in shanty towns and refugee camps – none of which exist today.

refugees hong kong

As the government feared over-crowding, more were turned away.

refugees hong kong

Border controls were only imposed in Hong Kong in June 1951 – two years after the People’s Republic was reorganised as the Communist Party.

refugees hong kong

Border patrol checking papers

For much of the 1950s, as many as 100,000 people were fleeing to Hong Kong each month…

refugees hong kong

…Some of whom were rich farmers and experienced capitalists. Others were criminals who went on to establish the triad society in the city.

refugees hong kong

Hong Kong’s population in the 1960s was estimated to be around three million.

refugees hong kong

Half of the population was under the age of 25 and the group became Hong Kong’s baby boom generation.

refugees hong kong

Ghurka troops in the British forces guarding the border.

Food shortages north of the border were deemed ‘serious natural calamities’ by Peking.

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HKFP History: Mainland refugees fleeing famine are rejected by British Hong Kong