Hong Kong PolyU campus protest holdouts left isolated and fearful

Hong Kong PolyU campus protest holdouts left isolated and fearful

Protesters address the media at the campus of the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong
Protesters address the media at the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 24, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica)

HONG KONG: Last week, the cafeteria of Hong Kong's Polytechnic University was buzzing with protesters who occupied the campus for days, fighting fierce street battles with riot police in some of the most violent clashes during six months of unrest.

On Monday (Nov 25), a lone student sat at a long table, one of several dozen people believed to remain on the wrecked Kowloon peninsula campus in deteriorating conditions that have raised fears about their health.

"We have been trapped in this place for a long time," said the man in his 20s, who asked to be identified only as Norym, clutching a cup of coffee from a kitchen filled with garbage and emitting a fetid smell. "You can't sleep well, you can't rest well, you can't get proper food."

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Food and water are seen on a building rooftop
Food and water are seen on a building rooftop on the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

A makeshift bed used by a protester is seen in a small technical room
A makeshift bed used by a protester is seen in a small technical room on the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

Hong Kong's voters turned out in record numbers on Sunday to deliver a landslide victory to pro-democracy candidates in a district council election held during a rare lull in violence.

But the Polytechnic University remains a symbol of the chaos that has engulfed the city.

University authorities estimate as many as 50 protesters may be holed up across the sprawling and increasingly filthy campus, too frightened to attempt an escape but cracking under the strain of their isolation. Some protesters' estimates were lower, suggesting just a handful remain.

A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Red Cross told Reuters on Monday it had dispatched clinical psychologists to talk to students. Medicins Sans Frontieres, which has sent teams into the campus, also raised concerns about the physical and mental health of the holdouts.

READ: Chinese state media urge Hong Kongers to 'vote to end violence'

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A PolyU student drinks coffee and watches the news in a canteen in Hong Kong Polytechnic University
A PolyU student drinks coffee and watches the news in a canteen in Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis)

A protester rests against a wall as he searches a building for fellow protesters who might be hidin
A protester rests against a wall as he searches a building for fellow protesters who might be hiding, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), Nov 22, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

On Sunday night, paramedics brought out a lone protester, exhausted, shaking and swaddled in an orange fleece blanket. Two people who helped bring him out said he was found by social workers going door-to-door through the buildings.

"He had refused to consume any food for many days," said Norym. "He had been in a very frightened state for a long time."

"CHAOTIC STATE"

On the once-bustling campus, now eerily silent, flies buzz around mountains of waste. The ground is littered with unused petrol bombs and tear gas canisters, the debris of last week's occupation. Water leaks from the roof of the smashed-up library and alarm bells ring through deserted halls.

"Currently the campus is in a chaotic state, with debris, petrol bombs and dangerous chemicals scattered around the campus, which pose a considerable threat to personal safety," the university said in a statement on Monday.

READ: Commentary: Hong Kong campus siege widens split between moderates, radicals

READ: 'Smelly' sewer escape bid by PolyU protesters ends in arrest

A person claiming to be a volunteer medic searches for anti-government protesters at the premises o
A person claiming to be a volunteer medic searches for anti-government protesters at the premises of Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis)

A person claiming to be a volunteer medic searches for anti-government protesters at the premises o
A person claiming to be a volunteer medic searches for anti-government protesters at the premises of Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis)

Police, who have arrested around 1,000 people during the siege, are maintaining high plastic barricades and a fence around the perimeter of the campus.

Over the weekend, several Christian pastors toured the grounds after nightfall, past buildings spray-tagged with the slogan "Liberty or death". One group played guitar and sang.

But the presence of strangers has alarmed some protesters, who suspect undercover police may be among them.

"They are loners now, those who are left behind," said Reverend Youngman Chan, as he looked for students to console. "They call them 'little kittens', kittens are so fearful of people ... they hear you coming, they just disappear."

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READ: Hong Kong hospitals find themselves on protest frontlines

Paramedics escort a protester to an ambulance at the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) i
Paramedics escort a protester to an ambulance at the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 24, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Paramedics escort a protester to an ambulance at the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) i
Paramedics escort a protester to an ambulance at the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 24, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Some have stopped coming to look for food, supplies of which are diminishing, Norym said.

"It is a closed system," he said. "If more food doesn't come in, the food here is the food here."

Still, he vowed to remain until the last protester had left. "Sometimes, some things have to be done by someone," he said.

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Reuters/zl

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