African students and expatriates in China are reportedly being evicted from their homes and mistreated over fears they could spread the novel coronavirus.
African ambassadors in China have written to the country’s foreign minister over what they call discrimination against Africans as the country seeks to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last December.
Several African countries have separately also demanded that China address their concerns that Africans, in particular in the southern city of Guangzhou, are being mistreated and harassed.
In recent days Africans in Guangzhou have reported being evicted from their apartments by their landlords, being tested for coronavirus several times without being given results, and being shunned and discriminated against in public. Such complaints have been made in local media and on social media.
Having brought under control the original outbreak centred on the city of Wuhan, Beijing is now concerned about imported cases and is stepping up scrutiny of foreigners coming into the country and tightening border controls. It has denied any discrimination.
Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, said there seemed to be a concern in China that the African community in Guangzhou could be behind a second wave of infections.
“There is an escalating scrutiny of foreign nationals, but they are targeting the Africans and the African American community. Since last Thursday we saw 114 new cases reported in Guangzhou of coronavirus infections and 16 of those were Africans.”
“We’ve seen a number of reports from social media from members of the African community in Guangzhou making complaints of mistreatment, arrests, eviction and being denied access to restaurants and hotels, and some students are even claiming to be living on the streets and being denied food,” she said.
‘Stigmatisation and discrimination’
The African ambassadors’ letter sent to China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, highlighted a number of reported incidents, including that Africans were being ejected from hotels in the middle of the night, the seizure of passports, and threats of visa revocation, arrest or deportation.
The note said such “stigmatisation and discrimination” created the false impression that the virus was being spread by Africans.
“The Group of African Ambassadors in Beijing immediately demands the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans,” it said.
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 Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe on Saturday dismissed the accusation that Africans were being deliberately targeted.
“It is harmful to sensationalise isolated incidents,” it said in a tweeted statement. “China treats all individuals in the country, Chinese and foreign alike, as equals.”
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the Nigerian capital Abuja, said there is both “anger and disbelief” among the African officials.
On Saturday, Ghana’s foreign affairs minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said she had summoned the Chinese ambassador to express her disappointment and demand action.
Kenya’s foreign ministry has also “officially expressed concern”, adding the government is working with Chinese authorities to address the matter.
On Friday, Nigerian legislator Akinola Alabi tweeted a video of a meeting between the leader of Nigeria’s lower house of parliament, Femi Gbajabiamila, and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Pingjian.
In it, Gbajabiamila demanded an explanation from the diplomat after showing Zhou a video of a Nigerian complaining about mistreatment in China.
Al Jazeera’s Idris said, privately, there is also a concern that the incidents could have repercussions for the Chinese community living in Africa.
“There is also a fear among African governments of backlash against Chinese workers working on the African continent because of what is happening in Guangzhou and other parts of China as well,” Idris said.