Dozens, possibly hundreds, of Hongkongers are currently in the democratic island of Taiwan after fleeing their city to escape rioting charges for their role in the anti-extradition protests and pro-democracy movement, according to recent media reports.
Two protesters who spoke to RFA ahead of Taiwan's presidential and legislative election on Saturday said the island is a source of political hope and inspiration as its 19 million voters gear up to exercise their democratic rights at the weekend.
But they also fear that people there have become complacent, and may—like Hong Kong—soon have their rights and freedoms eroded under constant political pressure from China.
They also face more urgent concerns in their own lives, as they fear to return home and must now forge new lives for themselves in a strange place.
"My current plan is to work in Taiwan and stay here for a long time," one former frontline protester from Hong Kong told RFA in a recent interview.
"I need to find a place to carry on with my life, because I don't think I can go back to Hong Kong," said the protester, who gave only a pseudonym Jero.
Jero fled Hong Kong after taking part in the storming of Hong Kong's Legislative Council on July 1 last year, when dozens of young, masked protesters broke their way through toughened glass doors and security shutters to gain the main chamber.
Once there, the protesters, some of whom were teenagers, defaced China's national emblem and daubed anti-government and police slogans on the walls, after the city's leader Carrie Lam ignored widespread opposition to plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
Fears for the future
Jero said he is currently enjoying freedom from the stress of worrying about potential arrest, facing down riot police, or being tear gassed.
But he still faces considerable anxiety about his future.
If the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Tsai Ing-wen wins the election, and if DPP lawmakers win a majority in the island's Legislative Yuan, then Jero will likely be taken care of under a regime that has offered help and shelter to fleeing Hong Kong protesters.
But if the pro-China opposition Kuomintang (KMT) wins, the results could mean ever-closer ties with China and further danger for Hong Kong escapees.
"I was thinking that if the KMT wins the election I will have to go somewhere else," Jero said. "But if you were to ask me where, I couldn't tell you."
"I haven't found anywhere ... For me, Taiwan is the best option right now," he said.
'This man is our enemy'
Roger, the nickname of the second Hong Kong fugitive who spoke to RFA, said he is also very worried about the election outcome, believing that the KMT's Han Kuo-yu will undermine freedom and democracy in Taiwan if he is elected.
"When Han Kuo-yu came to Hong Kong, he went straight to [Beijing's] Central Liaison Office and met with Chinese officials," Roger said. "He made it clear that he was part of the pro-China faction."
"This man is our enemy. The Chinese Communist Party is our enemy in Hong Kong and in Taiwan," Roger said. "It is axiomatic to us that the Chinese Communist Party can't be trusted."
"That's why we loathe and detest [the candidate with] the pro-China stance."
Many in Taiwan share his view, and worry that the island—which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party nor formed part of the People's Republic of China—will sleep-walk into closer economic ties with China, and eventually fall under Beijing's political control too, with a hollowed-out political system.
Incumbent Tsai has seen her support grow as she has repeatedly spoken out in defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty and demanded that Beijing, which has refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island, treat Taipei as an equal partner and sovereign state.
The Legislative Yuan recently passed a law forbidding Chinese influence across many areas of political life.
Call to unify
The election comes one year after Chinese President Xi Jinping's Jan. 2, 2019 speech insisting that Taiwan "unify" with China under "one country, two systems," and refusing to rule out the use of force to annex the country.
"I am worried that if the KMT wins, they will do many things that diminish Taiwan's sovereignty, turning Taiwan into China's Taiwan," a young Hongkonger who gave the nickname A Ming said.
"He may use this to do deals with China, which may put anti-extradition protesters from Hong Kong currently living in Taiwan at risk," said A Ming, who is currently enrolled in a Taiwanese university.
He called on Taiwan voters to turn out in huge numbers on Jan. 11, to vote for the continuation of their freedom and democracy.
Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.