Krish Kandiah on welcoming Hong Kongers

Over the past year Krish Kandiah has been pivotal in bringing together several organisations, churches, and individuals to respond to the arrival of many people from Hong Kong in the UK. His work resulted in the formation of the UKHK initiative, so we caught up with him via Zoom to find out more.

How did you get involved in UKHK?

I was running a charity called Home for Good, which focused on inspiring people to become foster parents and adoptive parents. Then the opportunity came to serve the government by becoming the chair of the adoption and special guardianship leadership board. I felt very called to do that, inspired by the story of Daniel, where Daniel goes to serve a government and does that as a kind of faith calling to try and make a positive impact in the society that he’s been placed.

This is a one-day-a-week job. So, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with my time, and also what I’m going to do to earn a living.

Then there’s a news report about the fact that the UK was going to welcome people from Hong Kong through the new British National Overseas passport route. We got wind that the Home Office was predicting around 100,000 people would come in the first year alone.

When I heard that, I realised that would be the largest planned migration to the UK, from outside of Europe, since Windrush1. A shiver went down my spine, because the nation as a whole, and the Church in particular, did a terrible job of making people from the Caribbean feel welcome in our nation and in our churches.

And I thought, ‘What would happen if we could reverse that? How could we learn from all the mistakes, and make sure this time the Church was at the front of the queue to welcome new arrivals from Hong Kong?’

So that was where the idea for UKHK was birthed. By the grace of God, our friends at Stewardship believed in the vision and allowed us to set up a Rapid Response Fund. Then it was a delight to find partner mission agencies that would work alongside us. OMF was an absolutely key player in that alongside groups like the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission, and Welcome Churches.


When did all this start?

January 2021. The British National Overseas2 visa route opened on 31 January, and we got going just before that.


What are some of the encouragements you’ve seen since then?
It’s been hugely encouraging. Over 500 churches signed up to become ‘Hong Kong ready’. We did some online events with 800 or so church leaders. We were able to work effectively across usual boundary lines. So whether that was Chinese majority churches working alongside white majority churches, whether that was Anglicans, working with Baptists, working with charismatics, working with reformed, it was just tremendous to have this sense of unity, people working together. We had thousands of people sign up for an e-letter, to share the helpful resources we had available in Cantonese on our website.

We also ran a friendship festival with churches in Sutton [to welcome people from Hong Kong]. Those churches did a fabulous job of getting the mayor and the local MP there. Over 500 people from the community and Hong Kong turned up. One lady I met said, ‘This feels like home.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to happen.’

The government began to take notice of what we were doing. I had the privilege of introducing new arrivals from Hong Kong, first to Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. Then I actually went to Downing Street and introduced our Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to some new arrivals from Hong Kong too.

What kind of opportunities or challenges are coming up in the future?
There are huge opportunities. UKHK as a consortium won some government funding to help integrate Hong Kongers into the UK. People were so grateful to the government for opening this route. And so grateful for the Church and the role they play in in making people feel very at home. We’re doing that in three different areas. We’re offering social integration, educational integration and professional integration.

So, we’ve got a Welcome Course that we’ve designed with our friends at OMF and Welcome Churches and COCM. It’s a six-episode course that churches can use to help new arrivals from Hong Kong practice their English, make some friends and learn how to apply for the citizenship course to become a full UK resident.

We’re running friendship festivals around the UK, just like the one we did in Sutton.

And we’ve also got a mass parent and teachers event to try and help teachers that aren’t maybe used to teaching children from Hong Kong, and parents who are new to the British education system, to feel welcomed and integrated into the system.

[We also have] a little booklet that we’ll give to every primary school child who has arrived from Hong Kong to make sure that they feel welcome in our nation.

One of the challenges has been – I suppose it’s a challenge and an opportunity – that there has been a wonderful response to the Ukraine migration and the refugee crisis, (I actually run the Sanctuary Foundation, which is focusing on that) but it’s meant that trying to recruit churches to help us welcome Hong Kongers has become less of a priority. And that’s understandable. You know, people coming from Hong Kong have a very different set of needs to people that are fleeing a war zone. But our argument is that people are made in the image of God. And it’s important to offer kindness and compassion to Hong Kongers is just as it is to offer that same kind of compassion to Ukrainians.

How can Billions readers get involved?

I’d love them to do three things.
The first is to pray. I mean, this is an unprecedented migration. We’ve have seen Chinese churches in the UK triple in size through this Hong Kong migration.

In other times when we’ve seen an influx of people from other nations, that has done wonderful things for the revitalisation of the whole UK Church. Our prayer would be that this movement of people to the UK will be a blessing, not just to the Hong Kongers, not just to the Chinese churches, but to the whole UK Christian community. Often when people are in transition, they’re more open to consider spiritual things. We pray for those that are coming to the UK from Hong Kong, that they’d be intrigued to find out more about the faith that’s motivated so many hundreds of churches to be incredibly hospitable and kind towards them.

The second thing is we’d love people to do is to sign up to the various initiatives that we’ve got that are just a wonderful gift to be able to offer welcome. So, whether that’s coming along to a welcome festival, running the Welcome Course or just signposting people to the website where new arrivals from Hong Kong can make use of useful resources.

The third thing is to be open hearted to where God is going to lead us next. We saw this mass migration from Hong Kong, and we stepped into that. And then God opened the door for us to be able to help Afghan refugees. And now he’s opened another door for us to help Ukrainians.

It feels like the Church is just a wonderful ‘mobilisable’ force for good in the world. We’ve found a way that we can make that offering to new arrivals, but also to the government to give them help in an overlapping ambition. We as Christians want to make sure people are welcomed into our nation, and so does the government. So, when there’s overlapping ambition, I think there’s some really exciting things that we can do with any government that’s in power.

Find out more about UKHK on their website.