On suspected coronavirus-related xenophobia, African diplomats mount pressure on China

Coronavirus COVID-19 is reported to have started in Wuhan, China. African diplomats are not taking it lightly with alleged discrimination in China against African migrants over the virus causing a global pandemic.

Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Chinese President Xi Jinping

In a strongly-worded statement, Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration wrote:

“I have been briefed on the inhumane treatment being meted out to Ghanaian and other African nations in the People’s Republic of China with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I regret and highly condemn this act of ill-treatment and racial discrimination.

“I have therefore summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana She Ting Wang to register my disappointment and call for his government to immediately address the situation and bring their officials to order.

“A formal communication from the government of Ghana will be issued with 24 hours to address the situation at hand.”

This release had been triggered by a viral video that had dominated the feeds on Ghana’s social media platforms.

Standing by the road with a pile of bags by his side, a Ghanaian narrates his ordeal in China.

“Life is hard in China right now. I have not slept since yesterday. I was released from quarantine around 2:30 but I was immediately picked up again.

“All foreigners have been evicted from the hotel. I was told I would be quarantined again irrespective of the previous one. I have been checked over and over again and been told I can’t go home.

“When I asked where I should go, where I was directed to, is 280 Renminbi. I don’t have that kind of money so I’m not sure where to lay my head tonight. I am here with my brothers from Nigeria and Uganda. We are not alone. All foreigners in Guangzhou are suffering and we need help,” the man in the video said.

Instant calls from Ghanaians including high profile celebrities like Sarkodie meant Ghana’s government had to act swiftly, triggering the notice from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.

However, Ghana is not alone as other countries in Africa start diplomatic conversations with China amidst maltreatment of its people in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19.

With most countries wary of the threat of imported cases of COVID-19, China has come under fire for how they are segregating with the treatment of black migrants in their process.

The Global Times in China reported an imported case of a Nigeria national infecting the owner of a restaurant and two children in Guangzhou. Guangzhou has one of the largest African communities in Africa considering its trade with the continent. As the capital upgraded the risk level of COVID-19 in some districts from low to medium, a lot of Africans were going to be affected and videos have shown a lot of maltreatment for a segregated group as the nations deal with a global pandemic.

With social media being an easy way to send messages across the target audience, videos and photos of the suspected coronavirus-related xenophobia kept going viral. Another viral video shows a group of blacks dragging their language through the streets and complaining about how “they are chasing us away” and “not making us sleep” but “just on the road”.

These conversations sparked talks in some home countries around the African continent, with one headline standing out in Kenya: “Kenyans in China: Rescue us from hell”.

Photos and videos of people sleeping on the floor on open streets have also been a topic of discussion on TV stations and local media platforms across Africa.

Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives met with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, tweeting about it with the caption:

“Today, I met with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria on the disturbing allegation of ill-treatment of Nigerian citizens in China. I showed him the video clip that had made rounds. He promised to look into it and get back to my office by Tuesday.

Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement addressed the situation saying China has “in some instances precipitated unfair response against foreigners particularly of African origin”. It further stated the Ministry had received assurance from the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi that the Government of China takes seriously the situation and have asked locals in Guangzhou to take immediate action to safeguard the legitimate rights of Africans concerned.

Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leon also took action of the situation with a statement, confirming the diplomats have been in constant communication and the Embassy is monitoring the situation.

In China, however, the narrative is different. Zhao Lijian, the Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman refuted the idea around China treating foreigners different. In a statement released on Easter Sunday, Zhao said:

“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.

“All foreigners are treated equally. We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination.”

With pressure mounting from African diplomats, the situation seems to be getting better. Volunteers in China are making efforts to link African migrants to landlords and hotels who still accept foreigners. CNN reports most of the African migrants in China who are mainly traders and students had found shelter.

The risk that was being assessed, however, was the effects of the lack of good communication as a volunteer who granted an interview to CNN said : “The authorities just don’t want them on the street”.

With the first case of coronavirus COVID-19 reported to be confirmed in Wuhan, China, conversations on social media and Africa suggest China should do better dealing with the effects of the virus and that virus-related xenophobia should not be in the books of China.


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