"They treat us like we're the virus": Africans evicted from housing in Chinese city
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After months of being on lockdown in an attempt to thwart the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese city of Guangzhou lifted restrictions on movement on March 27. Soon after, however, rumours started spreading on social media that there was a second wave of COVID-19 infections stemming from Guangzhou’s African community. As a result, many Africans were kicked out of hotels, barred from returning to their homes or even evicted. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to several people affected.
In early April, a rumour started circulating that the African community living in the Yaotai neighbourhood, located in the centre of Guangzhou, had been put under lockdown after a large number of new COVID-19 infections. On April 8, local authorities publicly discredited these rumours; stating that there hadn’t been a second wave of infections and the community hadn’t been put on lockdown. They did say that there had been 111 new cases of coronavirus recorded amongst new arrivals to the city, which included five Nigerians. These rumours have had a massive impact on Africans living in Guangzhou.
"My housemate spent two nights sleeping outdoors”Kingsley is a student in Guangzhou who is originally from Nigeria. He lives in a student residence in the city centre along with his roommate Francis (whose first name has been changed to protect his identity), who is from Togo. Kingsley says that Francis was barred from returning home on Tuesday.
He called me, saying that he was being prevented from entering our building. After several phone calls, I finally sent him some documents proving that he did indeed live in our building. But the security guard refused to look at it.
Unable to get into the building, my roommate ended up gathering with several other people who had also been kicked out of their buildings. They were stuck all night outside. And it got worse -- he told me that they were camping under a bridge when the police from a nearby station came and chased them out.
On Wednesday morning, Francis went to the hospital to get tested for COVID-19. I also took the test, but at home. When his test came back negative, he was finally able to come back home on Thursday morning, after spending two nights outside.
Francis, Kingsley's sroommate, took this picture when he was barred from returning home and had to spend two nights sleeping in the street.
Kinglsey's roommate Francis appears in this video posted on Twitter (see below). It shows a group of Africans walking next to a road in pouring rain in search of shelter.
“They cannot give us house, they cannot give us home, they cannot provide a place where we can stay. They are just following us, they want us to stay one place. After we have spent 15 days in the hotel, quarantine also for 15 days,” says the person who is filming the video (in English).
An outbreak of COVID-19 in Guangzhou province China and they blamed it entirely on d Nigerian immigrants &now forcing them out of communities&even out of d hotels dey initially quarantined them in. Kindly assist as our people r stranded in China pic.twitter.com/XonmCs4kSVpaparazi afam (@paparazi1) April 6, 2020
Businessmen forced out of their hotels
Francis met up with other Africans, who had also been forced out of their accommodation. A video posted on Twitter on April 6 shows the group standing in front of a police station. In one video, a distraught man films the police, repeating over and over, “Many Chinese [in] Africa. Chinese [in] my country. We no pursue Chinese. Look at what they are doing!” He even ends with a threat, “We’ll kill all Chinese.”
So what is #Guangzhou #Guangdong doing about the foreigners they chased out their hotels ? Is this not racism ? pic.twitter.com/mLxaGIaQ0wpaparazi afam (@paparazi1) April 7, 2020
Kingsley shared several similar videos with the FRANCE 24 Observers team. In one of these videos, the man filming points his phone at Chinese people wearing full protective gear in what looks like a hotel and says that he already completed a two week quarantine but is still being forced to leave. “We don’t know where they are taking us,” he says.
Another video shows men and women sitting in front of their hotel with suitcases. One of the men explains that they were kicked out of their hotel and that the police confiscated their passports.
"If the Nigerian government is doing anything, we beg, let them be fast so we can go out of this mess here in China. It is too difficult here,” he says.
Our team spoke to a Nigerian man named Henry who came to Guangzhou for business on March 18. He says that these videos show business people who were kicked out of their hotels, including some of his friends. Henry himself has had to change hotels twice and has already completed two quarantines.
It all started when the authorities made us leave our hotels to go into quarantine. They brought us to a hotel that was a bit more expensive than the one where we were. The doctors checked our temperature every day and tested us for coronavirus. Finally, after 14 days, we were able to leave. We went back to our original hotel, but when we got there, we were forced to undergo another 14-day quarantine.
Some of my friends weren’t able to go back to their original hotels because the owners refused to take them back in, citing government directives. My friends spent two days sleeping outside. It’s been raining a lot in Guangzhou and one of them was feeling sick, like he had caught a cold. The police accused him of having the virus and took him away.
"Our landlord asked us to move into our new house in the middle of the night”
April 6, 2020
This sign, which was apparently hung up on April 5, reads (in Chinese): “Foreigners are forbidden to enter the community, ESPECIALLY black people. Please owners should contact black people as soon as possible and ask them to leave the community. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Kelly, who is originally from Nigeria, has been studying in China for the past three years. She moved to Guangzhou last December. She had just signed a contract for a new apartment, but on move-in day, her new landlord asked her to move in during the night so that no one would see her.
He insisted that we could only move in at night. He showed us screengrabs of discussions with other landlords in the building, who were complaining that there were black people moving in. We are stuck now as we can no longer move there.
A few days ago, we were told that all Africans living in Guangzhou would have to take a COVID-19 test. But why just Africans? People are being kicked out of their homes. Some are even being chased out of supermarkets when they go to get groceries. We are being treated like we are the virus.
In these discussions on Wechat (the Chinese equivalent to WhatsApp), owners of apartments in Kelly's new building said that there should be a “black exemption”. They also said that they should figure out where the black people live (“which buildings are black”) and “be careful”.
Kelly's new landlord sent her this screengrab of his discussions with other owners in the same apartment complex, who said that they should figure out where the black people live and “be careful.” One person commented that she no longer dares to eat in public places after seeing two black men sitting on a bench throw their masks away.
This is a screengrab showing discussions between Kelly and her new landlord, who said he had been “scolded” by other apartment owners. He asked Kelly to move in at night and said other residents had complained about black people moving in.
The landlord of a Nigerian student named Jean (whose first name has been changed to protect his identity) asked him to move out on the morning of April 8, without any explanation. The IT student suddenly found himself without lodging.
While he was speaking to the FRANCE 24 Observers team, the police came to his door and asked him to leave.
“I wish there was a flight to go back to Africa,” he said. “I don’t care if it costs a fortune, I just want to go somewhere where I won’t be discriminated against.”
In the end, Jean was taken to a hotel to do a 14-day quarantine.
Screengrab of the conversation between Jean and his landlord, who asked him to move back into student accommodation.