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Trapped and Nowhere to go: Naturalized Business Owners in Hong Kong feel the squeeze of protests

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With Hong Kong passports, ethnic minority business owners are unable to leave as on-going protests have harmed sales, says Kandel Yamlal, owner of ‘Super Food & Store’ in Yau Ma Tei (YMT), Hong Kong.

“I’m afraid that my family will have to change their lifestyle,” Yamlal said. With a monthly house-rent of $12,000 and a new 2-year lease on his shop worth $35,000 per month, he finds it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Since he had to renounce his Nepalese Nationality, Yamlal can no longer return to work in his native home and says he feels “trapped” in Hong Kong.

Super Food & Store - Hong Kong

Mr. Yamlal keeps the store running into the late hours of the night (Source: Google Maps)

“Many businesses have had to close down. 4 of my friends lost their jobs in the past few weeks,” he said. With weekly disruptions in the MTR service coupled with protests in the general YMT area, the level of visitors to the area have decreased. Yamlal said his store, unlike many others, did not have to close during specific protest incidents but the lack of customers affected him all the same.

He believed that Hong Kong’s global reputation as a safe city had been damaged by the on-going protests. Having moved to Hong Kong in 1997, Yamlal considers it his second home. “My life is here, I have two kids studying here…no one is going to pay our rent, not the government and not the protestors.”

The Nepalese community in the area has traditionally been close-knit, making it difficult to see many come under hardship, noted Samita Li, a customer at Yamlal’s store. Li often bought food from Yamlal’s store during her lunch breaks and noted the increasing number of garage doors covering shop entrances on her way there. Having lived in the area for a year, she noted how much of a change it was from before the protests began. “Many of us are under pressure…something needs to be done fast, otherwise I don’t know what will happen”.

Across the street from Super Food & Store, Thapa Trakash, the owner of ‘Sanskriti Jewelry’, has known Yamlal for 8-10 years. He helps Yamlal and other store owners by only buying their products. Being in the Jewelry business, he believed he was relatively unaffected by the protests as all his customers are rich Nepalese. However, he was concerned that the protests may affect him in the future. “If protests keep going on [my customers] may lose their jobs. Gold is a luxury good and maybe if they don’t have money they’ll stop buying”.

Jewellery Shop in Jordan

A jewellery store run my Thapa Trakash in the Yau Ma Tei area in Hong Kong.

Born in Nepal, Trakash is a Hong Kong citizen who kept his Nepalese passport. He didn’t expect the situation to develop the way it did, however, he doesn’t plan to leave Hong Kong in the foreseeable future. He believed that the overall opportunity that Hong Kong provides is still better than what he would find in Nepal.

According to a Reuters analysis in September, the number of police-record printouts, which are commonly issued for visa applications and child adoptions, increased by 54% in August. Coupled with authorities in Malaysia, Australia, and Taiwan noting a rise in migration enquiries, more and more people in Hong Kong may be looking to leave the territory, Reuters noted.

Yamlal said that violence in any form is bad, however, he blamed the Chief Executive for being unable to resolve the issue. He believed that not listening to the opinions of the people would cause further damage in the future. “When a child wants something, either you explain the situation to them or give them what they want, that’s the job of the elder.”