For some Hong Kong protesters, stripped of their passports and facing criminal charges, a perilous 600 kilometer sea journey to Taiwan is their only hope of escape. For Taiwan, which has promised assistance to the people of Hong Kong but is wary of antagonizing China, this brings a dilemma.

People began fleeing to Taiwan from the early months of the Hong Kong protests last year, mostly legally by air and sometimes by fishing boat, said activists in Taipei who have helped Hong Kong citizens obtain visas. Numbering a few hundred, they included people who took part in the pro-democracy protests, as well as clergy, social workers and others who offered care and support to protesters.

This year, coronavirus-related travel restrictions and Hong Kong's new security law, which was imposed on June 30 and handed the police and Chinese security agents sweeping powers, have narrowed the protesters' options to leave and sharply reduced the numbers fleeing to Taiwan to a few dozen. The most desperate are taking their chances by sea.