Most of the 50 remaining dissidents who were in Hong Kong at the beginning of the year were smuggled out of China by the underground railway known as "Operation Yellowbird". It was established in Hong Kong by supporters of China's demo- cracy movement to help victims of the purge which followed the Tiananmen Square massacre.
It received an unprecedented level of assistance from the Hong Kong government in finding new homes in the West for the dissidents. A senior official said last night: "I can assure you that practically none of them [the dissidents] would have got out without the considerable help we gave them."
However, the imminence of the Chinese takeover has caused a small wave of panic to spread through the dissident community, 21 of whose members have found new homes, while another 20 or so are undergoing processing for immigration.
Eight dissidents sent an ultimatum to the Governor, Chris Patten, insisting his administration provide more assistance. However, it appears that some members of the group have turned down offers of resettlement in Europe, preferring to go to North America, while others are having difficulty establishing their credentials as bona fide dissidents.
Asked what the administration was doing to help the dissidents on his return from London, a rather tetchy Mr Patten said he hoped the people who sent the ultimatum "recognise that the way to deal with these sensitive and complicated issues is not by making threats or delivering so-called ultimatums".
China has not clarified its attitude towards dissidents remaining in Hong Kong after the handover in July. The Chinese government, which misses few opportunities to criticise the colonial government, is silent on this matter, strongly suggesting that it, too, wants the dissidents to leave.