In Guangzhou city, home to the largest African diaspora in Asia, racism appears to be widespread and systematic as new cases of coronavirus are reported across China.

African envoys issued a protest letter to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 13 over the racist mistreatment of African nationals in China. The diplomatic note came in response to the recent discrimination and harassment incidents Africans have faced, particularly in the industrial city of Guangzhou.

Africans have become targets of suspicion and subjected to forced evictions, arbitrary quarantines and mass coronavirus testing as Beijing fears reinfection from individuals arriving from abroad who could cause a second wave of the virus.

China’s coastal province Guangdong and its capital Guangzhou has become home to Asia’s largest African migrant population, who come to China for business and higher education. With areas referred to as ‘Little Africa’, Guangzhou has slowly become hostile to foreigners as local residents complain they feel alienated in their own cities. Chinese officials are unaccustomed to dealing with huge numbers of immigrants and locals also have an irrational fear of a “black invasion”. The recent coronavirus outbreak has further caused fear to surpass business interests.

Local authorities reported that the recent cluster of cases in southern China’s largest city was linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou. At least eight people diagnosed with Covid-19 had spent time in the city’s Yuexiu district, known as ‘Little Africa’. Among them, five were Nigerian nationals who faced widespread anger after reports surfaced that they had broken a mandatory quarantine for going outside to public places to eat in restaurants.  

As a result, nearly 2,000 people they came into contact with had to be tested for the coronavirus or undergo quarantine, state media said. This stoked xenophobic reactions on social media amid continued concerns over the rising number of imported cases coming to China from overseas.

A comic posted on Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms in China last week, entitled ‘An Illustrated Handbook on How to Sort Foreign Garbage’, depicted foreign nationals as 'trash' being thrown into waste bins and being disinfected by people in hazmat suits for supposedly breaching China's strict lockdown restrictions.

Chinese workers and health officials wear protective white suits as travellers from Wuhan gather to take buses as they are processed and taken to do 14 days of quarantine.
Chinese workers and health officials wear protective white suits as travellers from Wuhan gather to take buses as they are processed and taken to do 14 days of quarantine. (Getty Images)

On March 28, China suspendedentry into the country by foreign nationals holding visas or residence permits in an attempt to safeguard the country against reinfection from international travel, after more than 500 imported cases of the coronavirus were confirmed.Guangzhou had confirmed 114 imported coronavirus cases as of Thursday, April 9 – 16 of which were Africans. The rest were returning Chinese nationals.

Videos from China’s commercial hub Guangzhou began circulating online showing Africans being denied access to their houses, hotels, public transportation or being barred from entering shopping malls, restaurants and sleeping on the streets next to their luggage, braving  the cold weather. In another disturbing video a Ugandan mother cries as she has only been feeding her two children with water, scared to go out to buy food due to coronavirus-fuelled xenophobia.  

“China and Africa are good friends, partners and brothers,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian in a statement published this Sunday, reassuring that China treats all foreigners equally and the Chinese government has “ zero tolerance for discrimination“.

Foreign affairs official Liu Baochun told a news conference on Sunday that Guangzhou is enforcing anti-virus measures on anyone who enters the city from across the national border, regardless of nationality, race or gender.

The US Consulate General in Guangzhou also published a health alert on their website stating that the officials in the Guangzhou metropolitan area escalated scrutiny of foreign nationals.

It stated: “Police ordered bars and restaurants not to serve clients who appear to be of African origin. Moreover, local officials launched a round of mandatory tests for Covid-19, followed by mandatory self-quarantine, for anyone with ‘African contacts,’ regardless of recent travel history or previous quarantine completion.”

Recommending African-Americans to carry identity documents at all times, the US Consulate General advised African-Americans to avoid the Guangzhou metropolitan area until further notice.

[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]

Source: TRTWorld and agencies