A trendy phrase that has come up in political rhetoric over the past couple of weeks has been the term “xenophobia”. Sundstrom and Kim define this phenomenon as a form of civic ostracism, sourcing from feelings of racism or nationalism; it essentially takes away the political agency for minority people groups and eliminates their ability to exercise the basic human rights of identity and relationship formation (Sundstrom & Kim, 2014).
This trend has definitely been materializing in the United States in their treatment of Asian Americans since the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China. Due to the fear mongering tactics of politicians like Donald Trump, racist attacks and belligerent discriminatory remarks have been easy to spot in places like New York or Texas, where the disease is running rampant.
However, it is foolish to assume that this manifests only in America. The Chinese population have had a long history of blatant racism towards African Americans, and the chronicle of unfortunate events between Asian populations and African populations is full of bigotry and intolerance.
The epitome of this current is what is happening in the Guangzhou province of Southeast China, where African Chinese immigrants are being evicted from their homes and hotels indiscriminately because of unfounded claims that they are transmitting the coronavirus back into mainland China. Chinese community leaders are supposedly rolling out a testing campaign, targeted towards a substantial African population that has resided in that area for a long time. Residents have allegedly been asked to leave their places of residencies for twenty-four to forty-eight hours at a time, to never be asked to return. These now homeless individuals have been sleeping outside, attempting to find temporary housing to no avail (Larnyo, 2020).
The situation started because of a man labeled “Song” by the Chinese media, who spread false news about the number of Africans living in the area and how immigrants from Nigeria were bringing the virus with them. He maliciously testified about how Guangzhou was creating makeshift hospitals and essentially wasting the nation’s resources, and though he was arrested for spreading fake news, the repercussions of the viral article has hit the African community hard (Global Times, 2020). In a place that was dubbed “Little Africa” for a period of time, the black population has slowly but surely decreased significantly over the last decade. Though they thrived initially due to their distinct entrepreneurial spirit, the strict immigration policies of China as well as overall communal racism forced the African immigrants to leave the once successful area. (Marsh, 2016).
In regards to international human rights law, there are multiple clauses in landmark documents that establish the illegality of the actions of the Chinese government. The first thing that must be certified is that international law does not just suddenly become nullified in the case of migrants. International human rights norms have declared that the rights guaranteed in the international documents are based on the humanity of the individual, and should not be given or taken based on other standards. If that is the case, then the right to adequate housing also trickles down to apply to migrants, and as a result it becomes the most prominent provision that the Chinese government is not meeting. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights protects against forced evictions and includes entitlements such as participation in housing-related decision making (UN Habitat Fact Sheet, 2009). Furthermore, Article 43 of the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families explicitly states that migrants should have equal access to housing, and one of the general recommendations in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination actually calls upon State authorities to stop housing agencies from engaging in discriminatory policies. While there are a lot more violations that these recent actions have committed, it is extremely evident that the circumstances occurring in Guangzhou are flagrant offences on the international level. It takes away their economic and cultural rights to have a steady place of residence, and it also takes away the individual’s ability to exercise their basic political rights.
This event stretches much farther than the difficulties that the African migrants are going to face immediately, though those consequences also have dire repercussions. It puts attention to the racial and xenophobic tensions between the two racial groups, and it will become easier and easier for nationalists to find different ways to utilize the COVID-19 crisis to abuse other ethnic groups that they find issues with. Housing is definitely an essential element to pursuing the best quality of life that is guaranteed in several human rights documents, but there are other economic and cultural aspects that can also be easily infringed upon. If there is no action to stop an authoritarian government from acting upon their prejudiced beliefs, then how can anyone have confidence that this is the extent to which they will go? Discrimination against anyone based on their identity is a clear infringement of international human rights law; thus, the Chinese government must be held accountable for their despicable policies.
Larnyoh, Magdalene Teiko. “Africans Ejected from Chinese Hotels over COVID-19 Fears.” Pulse Nigeria, Business Insider, 8 Apr. 2020, www.pulse.ng/bi/lifestyle/africans-ejected-from-chinese-hotels-over-covid-19-fears/fj114zd. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
“Man under Investigation for Fanning Fears of Africans Causing Infections in Guangzhou.” Global Times, 7 Apr. 2020, www.globaltimes.cn/content/1184887.shtml. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020. “Immigration & Migrants’ Rights.”
International Justice Resource Center, ijrcenter.org/thematic-research-guides/immigration-migrants-rights/#Right_to_Life. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
Marsh, Jenni. “The African Migrants Giving up on the Chinese Dream.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Sept. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/06/26/asia/africans-leaving-guangzhou-china/index.html. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
Ronald R. Sundstrom, and David Haekwon Kim. “Xenophobia and Racism.” Critical Philosophy of Race, vol. 2, no. 1, 2014, pp. 20–45. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/critphilrace.2.1.0020. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
UN General Assembly, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, 18 December 1990, A/RES/45/158, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3980.html [accessed 8 April 2020]
UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), CERD General Recommendation XXX on Discrimination Against Non Citizens, 1 October 2002, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/45139e084.html [accessed 9 April 2020]
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Fact Sheet No. 21, The Human Right to Adequate Housing, November 2009, Fact Sheet No. 21/Rev.1, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/479477400.html [accessed 9 April 2020]