Last month we castigated Kibera residents caught on camera verbally attacking two Chinese citizens over coronavirus. This unfortunate case was not isolated. Chinese citizens experienced xenophobic attacks in many world capitals; bullied online and verbally in the streets in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. These attacks drew condemnation across the world, ultimately halting similar or even worse incidents.
Covid-19 is not a Chinese problem. It is a global catastrophe.
That’s why it is shocking to hear that Africans, Kenyans included, are being mistreated inside China. Video clips of Kenyans narrating their ordeal in the hands of Chinese are disturbing.
Scores are reportedly sleeping in the streets of Guangzhou and Beijing–without food and other basics–after being evicted by their landlords and police ostensibly for spreading the virus.
The Chinese ambassador to Kenya claims the “videos did not tell the whole story”. That the Africans, some of whom do not have valid papers to be in the country, violated public health measures such as avoiding public gatherings and wearing masks. Chinese ambassador in Nairobi told The Star newspaper on Friday “…they (Africans) went out gathering without masks. Later they showed symptoms of infection, but they have already transmitted to the community”.
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Ambassador Wu Peng’s statement is unfortunate in three very telling ways. First, is the plight of illegal immigrants in trying times of a pandemic. This demographic presents both health and security risks to themselves and host communities not because they are foreigners, but because they are the invisible minorities not factored in the planning during such emergencies. Second, it connotes their vulnerability as soft targets of attacks by expedient governments and their citizens; the perfect scapegoat for a people looking for outsiders to blame for what’s largely a homegrown crisis.
Third, the ambassador is simply adding decorum to wanton aggression. That’s why the ambassador, like his kinsmen, concludes – without testing – that these Africans are spreading the diseases. What tomfoolery! We may not have sufficient facts to comment on the status of these immigrants in China, but we can tell racist profiling from law enforcement.
Debasing a people on the basis of colour is no strategy for containing a pandemic: It is racism and abuse of human rights. A government renowned for strong-arm tactics, where everyone and everything is under microscopic scrutiny by the State cannot claim ignorance when its citizens turn on hapless foreigners. Whether