Hong Kong stunned by suicide in London of gifted student

February 09, 2023 08:45
Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong has been stunned by the suicide in London of a talented graduate who emigrated to the UK in April last year with a BNO passport and worked in a charity.

A coroner’s court in late January ruled that Fion Ho Yee-king, 27, took her own life in November after seven months of hardship, while she struggled to pay 900 pounds (HK$8,700) a month in rent for an apartment she shared with three people and found very unhygienic.

“Fion was clearly a very highly intelligent and dedicated humanitarian worker,” said Coroner Anton van Dellen, “The world is a much sorrier place for not having her in organisations that help people in need.”

Most shocking is that she had all the qualifications for an ideal migrant to the UK – she graduated in 2017 from City University of Hong Kong in Asian and International Studies and held a Masters in International Affairs at Geneva in Switzerland. After returning to Hong Kong, she worked for the Red Cross.

She was fluent in English and, for a person of her age, had wide experience of working with people of different races, rich and poor. So she had personal and social skills many emigrants to UK lack. This made the suicide so shocking.

After moving to London, she worked at CAMFED, a charity that campaigns for female education. She rented a room in Richmond, an expensive suburb of southwest London.

A spokeswoman for CAMFED said that Fion was extremely well-liked, respected and well-supported by her colleagues. “Just like her family, we were completely unaware of the struggles she was going through and distressed that she did not reach out for the help we could have provided.”
Her family in Hong Kong has been trying to discover the causes of this tragedy. Her brother Tommy Ho said Fion told him in early September that she was worried about her income and felt she was not able to earn a living, and that this had left her depressed.

He found material in her notebook saying that she had limited her meals to save money. “She feared that she would be laid off due to stress and poor working performance.” She had booked a counselling session for depressive symptoms, but took her life four days before the appointment.

One factor was the poor hygienic condition of the apartment she shared with three others. It would appear that she did not have good relations with them, nor did they help her. As a result of the stress, she could not sleep well and lost hair.

Her death provoked a flood of commentary by Hong Kong podcasters who provide regular analysis in Cantonese of life in the UK for those who have migrated and are considering it.

Chip Tsao said that young people in Hong Kong were influenced by the high standards of hygiene they found in Japan but which were not matched in many parts of Britain.

“When I was growing up, Hong Kong was poor and we saw homeless people and beggars,” he said. “But young people have grown up in a society of affluence and are not used to seeing poverty around them.

“This tragedy also shows the difficulties of adapting to life in Britain. In central London, there is a vibrant night life, which is expensive, but not in most other places. Young people in Hong Kong are used to going out in the evenings at a moment’s notice for wonton and snacks with their friends.

“Another question is why Fion did not seek help, from her flatmates or others. Was there nowhere to turn?” he said.

Hong Kong migrants have the misfortune to arrive in the UK during a winter during which inflation is at highest level – more than 10 per cent year-on-year – for 40 years and the country faces the worst strikes for more than 30 years.

Among them are nurses, on their first strike for 106 years. They are asking for a pay rise of 19 per cent, which the government has ruled out.

Last week Robert Jenrick, British Home Office Minister for Immigration, said that, since Britain launched the BNO scheme two years ago, 144,500 people had left Hong Kong and moved to the UK.

“We are particularly proud that Hongkongers have been making incredible contributions to the local community and economy. I have heard stories of and seen BNO visa holders working in the public health sector, education, and other trades as well as volunteering to help fellow immigrants from Ukraine and Afghanistan,” he said.

How tragic that Fion Ho could not be one of them.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.