Africans in Guangzhou
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Africans in Guangzhou (simplified Chinese: 广州非裔; traditional Chinese: 廣州非裔, more commonly 广州黑人; 廣州黑人; "Black people in Guangzhou") are Africans who travel to or reside in Guangzhou, China for short and long term periods.
Beginning during the late 1990s economic boom, an influx of thousands of African traders and business people, predominantly from West Africa, arrived in Guangzhou and created an African community in the middle of the southern Chinese metropolis. At 2012, there was an estimation of more than 100,000 African living in Guangzhou. Since 2014, the city's African population has significantly declined due to strict immigration enforcement by Chinese authorities and economic pressures in home countries including depreciation of the Nigerian naira and Angolan kwanza.
Most of these hundreds of thousands of Africans who arrive in Guangzhou are short term visitors making a purchasing run, making population figures liquid and difficult to estimate. According to official figures, 430,000 arrivals and exits by nationals from African countries were recorded at the city's checkpoints in the first nine months of 2014. Guangzhou officials released official population figures for residents in 2014 due to popular fears of an Ebola outbreak in the city by way of the African community. According to the city, there were 16,000 Africans including North Africans residing in Guangzhou. Of these residents, 4,000 were long term residents, which is defined by city officials as living for longer than 6 months in the city.
Since 2014 the African population has significantly declined, dropping to 10,344 residents by February 2017. A 2014 article in the magazine This Is Africa noted the decrease in population with increased immigration enforcement and foreign exchange difficulties blamed. A CNN article from September 2016 on the community claimed that upwards to thousands of African residents had left the city in the previous 18 months.
Among African nationalities in Guangzhou, the two countries with by far the most people are the West African nations of Nigeria and Mali. Nigerian people, mostly of the Igbo ethnicity, are most represented among those residing while Malians according to city records are most numerous among long term residents. Migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Senegal are the remaining African communities in Guangzhou with at least a few hundred registered members at country-based civic organizations in 2014.
The area of Xiaobei is near Xiaobei station and home to several streets catering to African and Middle Eastern residents. According to Professor Ma Qiang since the area was home to an existing Muslim population from Ningxia and Xinjiang, many African immigrants, around half of whom are Muslims, congregated around one area of town primarily because of the convenience in finding halal food. Owing to the neighborhood's history there are slightly more Muslim Africans than Christian Africans in Xiaobei. The nerve center of the area is Baohan Straight Street where there are African orientated shops and restaurants. The street was repaved in 2015 and many of the hawkers have departed or set up shops.
About 2 miles from Xiaobei and north of the Guangzhou railway station is Guangyuanxi, a more business orientated area with a major presence of Nigerian Igbo people. The area is filled with large trademarts selling shoes, clothing, and other goods. The trademarts are housed in large buildings called Tong Tong Trade Mart, Tian'en Clothing Market, Tangqi Building, Canaan Market, and Ying Fu Building. Since stricter immigration enforcement in the summer of 2013, this area has become much more dormant than before.
1990s and 2000s
Since China's economic boom in the 1990s, thousands of Africans mostly from West Africa migrated to China. In Guangzhou, Africans are generally engaged in commerce, visiting or residing in the city because of its wholesale trading markets supplied by nearby factories. During the 2000s, the city's African population rapidly increased with a 2008 news report stating the number of African residents had increased by 30% to 40% annually.
Riots in 2009 and 2012
Conflict between the African community and police in Guangzhou resulted in riots in 2009 and 2012. In July 2009, two Nigerian men jumped several floors from a building in an attempt to flee Chinese immigration authorities. Both men were hurt from the fall. But on hearing rumors of their deaths, hundreds of Africans, mostly Nigerian, surrounded a local police station. The demonstration escalated into a riot that shut down eight lanes of traffic on a major thoroughfare for several hours.
In June 2012, an African held in police custody after a taxi fare dispute died after according to police "suddenly losing consciousness". Over a hundred Africans gathered at the police station in question demanding the know the cause of death. Guangzhou police responded with a statement that they would "investigate and settle this case strictly by law" and also that "All should abide by the law of China, no one should harm public interests or damage public order."
Stricter immigration enforcement
A large scale immigration enforcement sweep was conducted by local police in July-August 2013. Media reports have reported a decline in the local African population since 2014 with stricter immigration cited as one of the reasons.
The system of immigration that had been in place since 2013 in Yuexiu District appeared to undergo change in summer 2018 with media reports that several low cost hotels and apartments in the area had prohibited African guests or singled out passport holders from Uganda and Nigeria, and shops and restaurants catering to Africans had been closed. The Uganda daily Daily Monitor spoke to Ugandans in Guangzhou who reported being advised to stay in more costly 4 or 5 star hotels, and other sources for the newspaper claimed the crackdown targeting Ugandans had followed an increasing number of criminal suspects in China charged with drug trafficking holding Ugandan passports, with the suspects allegedly being Nigerian citizens that obtained Ugandan passports through bribing "rogue" Ugandan immigration officials. A newspaper source described as a "senior government official" in Uganda blamed the Ministry of Internal Affairs for illegally selling Ugandan passports. A spokesperson for the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, responded that the Uganda passports were stolen or sold by Ugandan individuals.
Many Africans in Guangzhou have overstayed their visas or are using false passports, causing local police to conduct frequent visa inspections. Some Africans say that overstaying in China is inevitable because it is impossible to finish off the business they had come for within a 30-day time frame and they cannot afford a plane ticket home. Sociologists Gordon Mathews, Linessa Dan Lin, Yang Yang in a study of the local African community note that Nigerians, particularly Igbos, are much more likely than other African groups to stay illegally due to "masculine pride". Based on field interviews, Igbos report being under greater pressure from family and peers to become a success to justify a trip to China.
Foreign exchange difficulties
In addition to immigration enforcement, another difficulty to navigate for African traders has been the depreciation of several African currencies after the fall in oil prices since 2014. Nigerian traders who are a large part of the African contingent reported being stymied by the difficulty of obtaining foreign currency in Nigeria needed to purchase goods. The Nigerian government had initially reacted to the sharp depreciation in the Nigerian naira by limiting access to foreign exchange and refusing to devalue the official exchange rate. In order to obtain naira, Nigerian traders had to resort to the black market to buy dollars at a 75% premium, making it difficult to turn a profit. The foreign exchange problem proved so discouraging that one long time Nigerian clothing trader in Guangzhou interviewed by the Financial Times reported being unable to fill a single container so far into the year in the middle of 2016. Difficulties were reported by traders with foreign exchange in other African countries including Angola, another top oil producer.
Guangdong anti-drug officials assert that most drug dealers in the province are from Africa or the Middle East. Anti-drug officials quoted by US diplomats in a 2007 diplomatic cable described linguistic difficulties faced by the police in countering African drug dealers, noting some dealers used languages like Igbo, a Nigerian language that police had no capability for understanding. A Nigerian consulate official in Guangzhou estimated in 2017 that on average 1% of Nigerians arriving in Guangzhou would be arrested for a drug-related offense.
The Guangzhou Public Security Bureau carried out a major drug bust with 1,300 police officers raiding the Lihua Hotel (Dragon Hotel) in the city's Yuexiu District. The August 2013 raid coincided with an immigration enforcement crackdown in the summer 2013 and led to the arrest of 168 suspects, most of whom were described by police as citizens of Nigeria and Mali. The then Nigerian Ambassador in Beijing, Sola Onadipe, stated that more than 50 of the suspects arrested were holders of Nigerian passports. He noted large amounts of money were found on the suspects and lamented in an interview with the Vanguard, "As an embassy, how do you tackle such a thing?" The Ambassador in the same interview, a year before planned retirement, was harsh on his countrymen for engaging in what he described as rampant drug trafficking and ill mannered public behavior ("smoking marijuana openly in another man's country") and vented "it makes you not to enjoy your job". Ambassador Onadipe gave the local police credit for fairly adjudicating criminal cases involving Nigerians and pointed out that other African communities in Guangzhou including the neighboring countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana and countries across Francophone Africa didn't get the same level of police attention as Nigerians.
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