The African community in Guangzhou is on edge after widespread accounts were shared on social media of people being left homeless this week, as China’s warnings against imported coronavirus cases stoke anti-foreigner sentiment.
In the southern Chinese city, Africans have been evicted from their homes by landlords and turned away from hotels, despite many claiming to have no recent travel history or known contact with Covid-19 patients.
CNN interviewed more than two dozen Africans living in Guangzhou many of whom told of the same experiences: being left without a home, being subject to random testing for Covid-19, and being quarantined for 14 days in their homes, despite having no symptoms or contact with known patients.
Health authorities in Guangdong province and the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The move comes amid heightened media coverage of the so-called second wave of coronavirus cases, emanating from infections outside of China. Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged authorities to carefully watch for imported cases from other countries, state news agency Xinhua reported.
But one aspect of the data has received relatively less public attention: on March 26, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Luo Zhaohui said 90% of China’s imported cases held Chinese passports.
On Thursday afternoon, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, China and African countries have always supported each other and have always fought against the virus jointly.
“I would like to emphasize that the Chinese government treats all foreigners in China equally, opposes any differentiated practices targeted at specific groups of people, and has zero tolerance for discriminatory words and actions.”
On Saturday, however, the US Consulate in Guangzhou warned African-Americans to avoid travel to the city.
“In response to an increase in Covid-19 infections, officials in the Guangzhou metropolitan area escalated scrutiny of foreign nationals,” the consulate said in a statement. “As part of this campaign, 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.
“African-Americans have also reported that some businesses and hotels refuse to do business with them.”
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.
On Wednesday, Nigerian trader Nonso, whose name has been changed to protect his identity due to fear of government reprisals, says he and his girlfriend received a message from their landlord at 7 p.m. on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, saying they needed to vacate their flat by 8 p.m.. “I told him I can’t vacate in one hour,” said Nonso, who pays 1,500 yuan ($212) a month for his apartment in the Nanhai, on the outskirts of Guangzhou, and has lived in China for three years.
At 10 p.m. he says his landlord came to the flat and cut off the electricity and water supply.
“I asked them, what did I do? I’ve paid rent until September with two months’ deposit. They didn’t give me any reason,” he said.
Nonso called the police, who let them remain in the apartment for the night. But in the morning, Nonso says the landlord returned with a different officer, who said he had to leave.
Africans in China have long complained of racism, in the form of Chinese people holding their noses as they walk past, racially offensive adverts on television, and Chinese actors performing in blackface in a nationwide gala.
Earlier this year, when Beijing proposed changes to its immigration laws around permanent residency, a backlash emerged on Chinese social media site Weibo against Africans. Many of the comments have since been removed from the platform.