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African Community ‘targeted’, as China fights a Second Wave of Coronavirus

In Guangzhou, Africans are generally engaged in commerce, visiting or residing in the city because of its wholesale trading markets supplied by nearby factories.

However, reports emerged on Thursday from Africans in China that the crackdown on Africans is wider in Guangzhou. Meanwhile, Africans in Guangzhou have been encouraged to leave the city in recent years through a series of immigration policies, economic developments and heightened policing.

Earlier this week, images began circulating online of rows of Africans sleeping on the streets of Guangzhou, beside their luggage, having either been evicted from their apartments or been turned away from hotels. Other videos showed police harassing Africans on the street.

Several Africans disclose that they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and turned away by hotels.

No one had evidence of a government directive asking landlords or hotels to turn away or reject foreigners. Rather, they say, these appeared to be decisions made by private individuals and business owners.

“I’ve been sleeping under the bridge for four days with no food to eat… I cannot buy food anywhere, no shops or restaurants will serve me,” said Tony Mathias, an exchange student from Uganda who was forced from his apartment on Monday.

“We’re like beggars on the street,” the 24-year-old said.

Mathias added that police had given him no information about testing or quarantine but instead told him “to go to another city”.

A Nigerian businessman said he was evicted from his apartment earlier this week.

“Everywhere the police see us, they will come and pursue us and tell us to go home. But where can we go?” he said.

Several volunteer groups emerged on Thursday via WeChat, mostly populated by scores of other foreigners, rallying around the displaced Africans, organizing food, masks and sanitation products for those left wandering the streets of Guangzhou without a bed.

Local authorities in the industrial centre of 15 million said at least eight people diagnosed with the illness had spent time in the city’s Yuexiu district, known as “Little Africa”.

Five were Nigerian nationals who faced widespread anger after reports surfaced that they had broken a mandatory quarantine and been to eight restaurants and other public places instead of staying home.

As a result, nearly 2,000 people they came into contact with had to be tested for COVID-19 or undergo quarantine, state media said.

Guangzhou had confirmed 114 imported coronavirus cases as of Thursday — 16 of which were Africans. The rest were returning Chinese nationals.

It has led to Africans becoming targets of suspicion, distrust and racism in China.

China says it has largely curbed its COVID-19 outbreak but a recent cluster of cases linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou sparked the alleged discrimination by locals and virus prevention officials.

Last week a controversial cartoon depicting foreigners as different types of trash to be sorted through went viral on social media.

“There’s just this crazy fear that anybody who’s African might have been in contact with somebody who was sick,” said David, a Canadian living in Guangzhou who did not want to give his full name.

China’s foreign ministry acknowledged this week that there had been some “misunderstandings” with the African community.

“I want to emphasise that the Chinese government treats all foreigners in China equally,” said spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday, urging local officials to “improve their working mechanisms”.

The complaints in Guangzhou contrast with a welcome reception to Chinese efforts in battling the coronavirus across the African continent, where Beijing this week donated medical supplies to 18 countries.

“When China engages Africa it’s the central government that does that, but when it comes to immigration enforcement that happens at the local level,” said Eric Olander, managing editor of the China Africa Project.

“That explains why there’s an inconsistency in the more upbeat messaging we hear about Chinese diplomacy on the continent and the increasingly difficult realities that African traders, students and other expatriates face in their day-to-day lives in China.”

Since China’s economic boom in the 1990s, thousands of Africans migrated to China; most of these migrants were from West Africa.

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