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.
Guangzhou had confirmed 114 imported coronavirus cases as of Thursday — 16 of which were Africans. The rest were returning Chinese nationals.
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.
“I’ve been sleeping under the bridge for four days with no food to eat… I cannot buy food anywhere, no shops or restaurants will serve me,” said Tony Mathias, an exchange student from Uganda who was forced from his apartment on Monday.
“We’re like beggars on the street,” the 24-year-old said.
Mathias added that police had given him no information about testing or quarantine but instead told him “to go to another city”.
Police in Guangzhou declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
A Nigerian businessman said he was evicted from his apartment this week.
“Everywhere the police see us, they will come and pursue us and tell us to go home. But where can we go?” he said.