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Treatment of Africans in Southern China Fuels Diplomatic Criticism


FILE - Africans gathering in the "Little Africa" neighborhood of Guangzhou on March 2, 2018 before the coronavirus struck. (Photo by Fred DUFOUR / AFP)
Treatment of Africans in Southern China Fuels Diplomatic Criticism
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Sitting under a bridge with only a few belongings, a 19-year-old student from Ivory Coast was using his phone to call anyone he knew in China.

The student said he arrived in the southern city of Guangzhou earlier this month after completing his quarantine in another city. Chinese officials had restricted his movement as part of the country’s campaign against the new coronavirus.

"I really need help. I just don't want to sleep on the streets again," the student told the Reuters news agency. He spoke on condition that he not to be identified by name.

He came to China to study, but his university closed because of the coronavirus. Hotels kept refusing to give him a room, but he later found one.

Africans in Guangzhou say they are being unfairly targeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials from their home countries have begun to criticize their treatment in China.

Several African ambassadors wrote to the Chinese foreign minister, calling for the "forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments” to stop.

Last weekend, Ghana's foreign minister called for a meeting with China's ambassador to express the government's concern.

China's foreign ministry said on Monday that all foreigners are treated equally. But it also said virus controls on Africans would be removed except for confirmed cases of coronavirus and those who had close contact with an infected person.

"African friends will be treated fairly, justly and amicably in China," the ministry said.

Foreigners barred

Many foreigners in China say they have been treated unfairly as the country tries to control the spread of the coronavirus. Many Chinese fear that foreigners will bring the virus back to their community. For now, China has barred entry to almost all foreigners. Most imported cases of the virus are from Chinese nationals returning home.

Guangzhou is a center for African traders. Chinese officials said on Tuesday that 111 Africans had coronavirus, while a total of 4,553 Africans had been tested since April 4, state media reported.

Several Africans said their community was being unfairly targeted for testing.

"If they do this to all foreigners, then it's not a problem, but it's only black people," Nigerian Soumana Toudou told Reuters by WhatsApp. He said he was on his second 14-day quarantine because officials did not believe he had completed his first.

Reuters could not independently confirm this.

The increased testing of Africans has misled some Chinese.

"The…testing has set the Guangzhou locals into panic, thinking black people are carrying the virus," one man said.

He did not want to be identified.

Targeted for quarantine

A Communist Party social worker told Reuters on Monday that black people were being targeted to enter quarantine. The social worker did not want to be identified.

Last week, officials announced plans to restrict movement to and from two neighborhoods popular with Africans after five Nigerians got the virus.

On Monday, the United States consulate general in Guangzhou advised African Americans to avoid the city.

African engagement

Recently, videos on social media showed what appeared to be Africans sleeping on Guangzhou streets after being thrown out of their apartment homes.

"For a white person, you can't rent around here now because of the virus, but you'll be welcome again in a few months," said a property agent who would not give her name. "But black people, no one will accept them."

I’m Jill Robbins.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

quarantine – n. isolating a person due to contagious illness

pandemic – n. a contagious illness that crosses borders

amicably – adj. in a friendly manner

panic – n. great fear or hysteria

consulate – n. a small government office in another country

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