Restrictions on movement are now eased across China but some African immigrants are facing a different barrier: Discrimination.
Videos posted on social media, photos and interviews with residents paint a picture of harassment of black residents, particularly in the southern city of Guangzhou. African immigrants told VOA they are being barred entrance to stores, detained and singled out to be tested for coronavirus.
“Things are getting out of hand here, racism is going at a high level now,” an Ethiopian student in the city of Wuhan told VOA in a text message. “I have even experienced it a lot in the past seven days... Even the people I know before are afraid of me now.”
Tensions in Guangzhou escalated on April 7 when authorities announced 16 coronavirus cases among African residents, including a number of “community transmissions” in an area of the city known as “Little Africa.”
In subsequent days African residents began to report being evicted from apartments and denied entrance to restaurants including McDonald's. In one widely-shared video, a pregnant woman who appears to be African was denied entry to a hospital where she sought treatment.
Although Guangzhou has received the most attention for anti-African sentiment, some students in Wuhan report similar treatment.
“They started taking nucleic acid tests on foreigners, even if we were here on the lockdown. Some of us are afraid that they will do more bad things than this,” said the Ethiopian student in Wuhan, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “They are telling all homeowners who rented a house for foreigners to tell them to leave the house within one day and when they want to go to the hotel they won't allow [us in] too.”
The issue has led to diplomatic discussions. The chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted that he spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the issue.
“He reassured me of measures underway in Guangzhou to improve the situation of Africans, in line with the strong and brotherly partnership between Africa and China. The African Union Permanent Rep and the African Group of ambassadors in Beijing and Guangzhou are following the implementation of the measures.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said allegations that authorities in China have singled out foreigners are untrue.
“We are still facing great risks of imported cases and domestic resurgence. Particularly, as the pandemic spreads all over the world, imported cases are causing mounting pressure,” Zhao said on Sunday. “All foreigners are treated equally. We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
Ethiopia’s ambassador to China, Teshome Toga Chanaka, said Chinese officials are appropriately concerned about new cases coming from abroad.
“The major challenge has been imported cases. There has been some perception that some of these cases are coming from Africa, some of these cases are coming from other parts of the world,” he told VOA’s Amharic service. “So in light of the increasing numbers of imported cases, there has been some serious concerns by the government and then of course also within the general public also has a worry.”
But Chanaka also cautioned that appropriate safety measures should not expand to racial targeting.
“There is a mandatory quarantine for those who are arriving and they have to do several things. This is understandable but when this happens in a sort of a discriminatory approach or happens in a manner that targets a certain community, that is how many of the Africans are feeling that they are being targeted,” he said.
But some Africans living and working in China say they are living in fear. A Ghanaian businessman who now lives in Shanghai says many people, especially those in Guangzhou are worried that there will be a knock at the door either to evict them or force them to be tested for coronavirus.
“It makes no sense. They don't do this to any other skin color. They just do this to the Africans,” he told VOA’s Amharic service. “So, like, it’s so sad. It’s ridiculous. It’s just like they have this ignorance.”