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Africans In China Allege Racism As Fear Of New Virus Cases Unleashes Xenophobia

An African man stands in a hotel entrance under lockdown in Guangzhou, China, on April 8.
Credit: Alex Plavevski/ EPA-EFE/ Shutterstock

Africans living in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou say theyhave been evicted from their apartments and refused entry to restaurants as part of a xenophobic campaign against black people that is ostensibly aimed at curbing the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Other black residents in a part of the city known as “Little Africa” are being forced to remain inside their apartments – even if they have not traveled anywhere that would warrant a quarantine – and submit to coronavirus tests.

The Chinese authorities’ actions triggered protests from African governments – an embarrassment for Beijing as it seeks to woo African states with promises of loans and investment – and prompted U.S. diplomats over the weekend to warn African Americans to avoid the Guangzhou area.

“People are not happy because they’re being forced out of their apartments and into hotels where they have to pay [$30] a night for 28 days,” said Maximus Ogbonna, the president of a Nigerian community group in Guangzhou.

Ogbonna is in a quarantine – for a second time – in his apartment, with a camera installed over the door so police can monitor him. He completed a 14-day quarantine in March after returning from Nigeria but was told by local officials on April 8 that he had to do another 14 days in isolation, although he had tested negative for the virus and had not traveled elsewhere.

The focus on African residents comes amid broader restrictions on foreigners in China as officials, having curtailed the coronavirus outbreak that began in the central city of Wuhan in November, grow concerned about a second wave of infections from abroad.

China last month banned entry to all foreigners, although some 90 percent of new cases had been Chinese citizens returning from places such as Italy, Iran and the United States. Among the 98 new infections from abroad reported Monday, all but a few were Chinese nationals arriving from Russia.

In Guangdong province, of which Guangzhou is the capital, 183 people have returned from abroad with the virus since it began spreading outside China. Twenty-two were from Africa, according to official figures. Some 30,000 foreigners live in Guangzhou, including about 4,500 Africans.

The Chinese government appears conscious of the need to be acting against a second wave, analysts say, and foreigners are an easy target.

Residents in Beijing and Shanghai have reported incidents of bars and restaurants refusing entry to foreigners. But in Guangzhou, home to the largest African diaspora in Asia, it appears to be wider and more systematic.

Photos and videos posted on social media over the weekend showed Africans sleeping on sidewalks or waiting under shop awnings after being ordered out of their apartments and hotel rooms. Others showed Nigerian diplomats delivering food in the pouring rain to evicted compatriots, and Chinese police in riot gear herding African men along a street.


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