Laurie Chen, AFP, April 11, 2020
Africans in southern China’s largest city say they have become targets of suspicion and subjected to forced evictions, arbitrary quarantines and mass coronavirus testing as Beijing steps up its fight against imported infections, drawing US accusations of xenophobia.
China says it has largely curbed its COVID-19 outbreak but a recent cluster of cases linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou sparked the alleged discrimination by locals and virus prevention officials.
Local authorities in the industrial centre of 15 million said at least eight people diagnosed with the illness had spent time in the city’s Yuexiu district, known as “Little Africa”.
Five were Nigerian nationals who faced widespread anger after reports surfaced that they had broken a mandatory quarantine and been to eight restaurants and other public places instead of staying home.
As a result, nearly 2,000 people they came into contact with had to be tested for COVID-19 or undergo quarantine, state media said.
The tense situation has made Africans targets of suspicion, distrust and racism in China — and brought a stinging rebuke Saturday from Washington.
Several Africans told AFP they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and turned away by hotels.
China has banned foreign nationals from entering the country, and many travellers are being sent into 14-day quarantines either in their own accommodation or at centralised facilities.
The US State Department has issued an alert advising African Americans, or those with potential contact with African nationals, to avoid Guangzhou.
“It’s unfortunate but not surprising to see this kind of xenophobia towards Africans by Chinese authorities,” a State Department spokesperson said.
The infections in Guangzhou have also sparked a torrent of abuse online, with many Chinese internet users posting racist comments and calling for all Africans to be deported.
Last week a controversial cartoon depicting foreigners as different types of trash to be sorted through went viral on social media.
China’s foreign ministry acknowledged this week that there had been some “misunderstandings” with the African community.