Officials in Beijing, China, are forcing thousands of migrant workers out of their homes, following a large fire that killed 19 people last month.
The government says it is removing people from unsafe housing complexes and buildings.
But many observers view the efforts as an attack on migrant workers, whose inexpensive labor keeps the city running.
The fire broke out in a housing area in Daxing, a district in southern Beijing.
Beijing Communist Party Secretary Cai Qi has begun a 40-day effort to tear down buildings said to be unsafe. The government has razed many buildings. Other structures have been made unlivable by breaking windows or destroying walls.
One elderly man whose family name is Sun told VOA he used to work in a restaurant in Daxing. The restaurant is now destroyed, with pieces of glass covering the tables and chairs. The man said the business owner had already left Beijing to return to his hometown in search of work.
Some shop and restaurant owners have lost all of their money, Sun added. He said one owner of a nearby store that opened last year had invested $36,000 in the business.
“Now it is torn down,” Sun said. “Who knows if he will receive any compensation?”
In Xinjian Village, another area of southern Beijing, all ground-level stores have closed. Security workers fill the streets; men with large vehicles carry away refrigerators and other equipment.
Along the area’s main street, the owners of one restaurant sit inside their closed shop. They said that numerous security workers had removed their gas tanks. It was now impossible to reopen the business. They said they were told they would be arrested if they complained.
The owners plan to leave Beijing and return to Heilongjiang, in northeastern China.
“There is no place to eat, you can’t cook food and the heat has been turned off where we live. You can’t use coal or gas or electricity,” one man said.
Large business complexes are being closed, as well. On the east side of the city, at least 12 of the shops in one large building have been closed. Other shops are still open and busy. Business owners do not know how much longer they will continue to operate.
One man said, “If feels like we are in prison.”
In nearby Shuangshu South Village, a man named Zhang told VOA he had spent several thousand Chinese yuan to buy gasoline for his vehicle so that he could search for a new place to live.
In the end, he said, he found a farmhouse outside the city for $220 a month.
“I am not talking about a place where rich people live. Just a place that has a shower, is warm and where I can cook food and eat. That is enough,” he said.
People on social media – and even Chinese state media – have criticized the government’s decision to force people to leave their homes so quickly.
Hu Xingdou is an economist at Beijing Institute of Technology. He said he disagrees with how people are being forced from their homes and places of work. However, he says that migrant workers cause some social problems in big cities.
Beijing wants to remove some factories from its area, Hu said, because it wants to look more like a capital city than an industrial city.
“Beijing isn’t an economic center, it’s a capital city, and its population and traffic conditions must be kept under control,” Hu said.
Observers say the government is acting unfairly by targeting the “low-end population” -- a term that state media use for migrant workers.
One young migrant worker who had been evicted said, “How do you describe ‘low-end’ population? We are all Chinese citizens. It isn’t something that you can define by the amount of money a person makes.”
The recent government campaign comes just a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to build a fairer country. He also promised to make the government more sensitive to citizens’ problems.
I'm Ashley Thompson
And I’m Susan Shand.
Bill Ide and Ye Bing reported this story for VOA News from Beijing. Susan Shand adapted their report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in this Story
confusion - n. a situation in which people are unsure about what to do or are unable to understand something clearly
inexpensive – adj. low in price
raze – v. to destroy (something, such as a building) completely
compensation – n. something that is done or given to make up for damage, trouble, etc.
sensitive - adj. easily upset by the things that people think or say about you
elderly - adj. old or rather old