Africans living in Guangzhou are tired of being evicted from their homes, forced into quarantine, blocked from hotels and barred from restaurants amid fears that they will spread the deadly COVID-19 in China’s third-largest city.
A student from Sierra Leone told the BBC that discriminatory treatment by Chinese authorities was spurred by a rise in COVID-19 cases imported from other countries, although only a small percentage of those who tested positive were African. Guangzhou long has had the largest African community in China.
The woman, who did not give her name, said she received a letter from her university stating that all Africans needed to be tested for COVID-19. Although her tests twice came back negative, she was forced to remain in quarantine.
“With all this happening, the Chinese have exhibited racism and discrimination against black people here in Guangzhou,” said the woman. “I know people from my church who are white and non-Africans who are not going through what we are going through — quarantine and multiple testing. Quarantine hotels are like forced detention for blacks.”
Social media posts have shown Africans evicted from their homes and shivering on the streets, sometimes with children.
A video shown on New Tang Dynasty Television, a U.S.-based broadcaster that focuses on China and often covers topics that are censored in mainland China, showed a large number of wrongfully evicted Africans dragging their luggage aimlessly through the streets of Guangzhou. All of them wore masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re just walking on the road,” said one man. “They can’t give us a house, they can’t give us a hotel, they cannot provide a place we can stay.”
Reaction to such mistreatment was swift among world leaders, as foreign ministers from Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana called on their Chinese counterparts to stop the abuse.
“My Office invited the Chinese Amb to the AU, Mr Liu Yuxi, to express our extreme concern at allegations of maltreatment of Africans in #Guangzhou+called for immediate remedial measures in line with our excellent relations,” Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, said on Twitter.
Shirly Ayorkor Botchwey, Ghanaian minister for foreign affairs, denounced the treatment of Ghanaians and other Africans in China as “inhumane.”
“I regret and highly condemn this act of ill treatment and racial discrimination,” Botchwey said on Twitter.
Kenya’s response to discrimination against its citizens in China was equally scathing.
“The reality is that this has been a very unfortunate outcome. Africans, Kenyans included, have been discriminated against in the process of the provincial government’s response to try and mop up the situation that they are facing there after the crisis,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said in a press conference. “Sadly, they have discriminated against and targeted various foreigners in their response.”
Such backlash was a sign that African leaders were “setting new boundaries with their Chinese counterparts,” Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told the Mail & Guardian, a weekly South African newspaper.
“African rebukes of the Chinese are rarely as forceful or public,” Devermont said. “African ties to China will remain close, but it may presage some shifts in behavior and tone.”
Social media users took to Twitter under the hashtag #ChinaMustExplain to vent their anger, frustration and concern.
“African lives are not on a discount,” Mmusi Maimane, a South African politician and former leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance political party, said on Twitter. “Just because our resources have been sold for cheap, it does not give any nation the right to treat us like dirt. We cannot just look away when our brothers and sisters are stigmatized and traumatized.”
Another Twitter user who used the name Qweencass posted a story about a pregnant black woman in China who was denied admission to a hospital because of her race.
“I am disgusted by China!” Qweencass wrote. “The fact that this is going to this extreme is mind-blowing and everybody is mute. Haven’t seen outrage from them.”
Africans in Guangzhou also turned to social media to update one another on the numerous hotels and hospitals where businessmen, residents and students are being held across the city, the BBC reported. Some posted test results showing that they are negative for COVID-19. Others posted medical and hotel bills they can’t afford to pay.
American officials also expressed dismay over the harsh treatment of Africans in China. Tibor Nagy, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, urged Chinese authorities to stop the discrimination.
“Videos and stories from #Guangzhou are appalling. Abuse and xenophobia has no place in our fight against this global pandemic,” Nagy said on Twitter. “Chinese authorities must do more to stop these attacks against Africans living and working in China.”