A McDonald’s restaurant in one of China’s biggest cities has temporarily closed after it was filmed banning black customers following a new cluster of coronavirus cases linked to an African diaspora.
The city’s large black population says it has faced intense discrimination in recent days after multiple COVID-19 cases in the southern city of Guangzhou were linked to the Yuexiu district known as ‘Little Africa” due to its high population of African nationals.
Authorities confirmed 16 of 114 imported cases in the city were Africans. It has since prompted landlords to evict African residents forcing many on to the streets while some claim they’ve been refused entry into stores and other restaurants and subject to arbitrary quarantines.
Reports in Guangzhou previously suggested some of those infected had been flouting strict rules placed on foreign nationals, fuelling xenophobia in the city amid fears of a second wave of the virus.
On Sunday, video emerged from a McDonald’s restaurant in the city showing a female employee distributing signs that said “black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant”.
“For the sake of your health consciously notify the local police for medical isolation, please understand the inconvenience caused,” the sign read.
McDonald’s China has since apologised for the incident and said the store has been temporarily closed.
“As part of the temporary closure of this restaurant, we will take the opportunity to further educate managers and employees on our values, which includes serving all members of the communities in which we operate,” a spokesperson told Hong Kong Free Press.
The spokesperson said the sign being handed out was unauthorised.
Tensions flare between Chinese authorities and black community
Several Africans have spoken out over their treatment in recent days, suggesting the black community are being unfairly targeted.
“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,” Tony Mathias, an exchange student from Uganda who was forced from his apartment on Monday, told AFP.
“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”.
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.
A Chinese employee at a Guangzhou bar popular with foreigners told Yahoo News Australia she had lost her job after the bar was closed down as the government looked to crack down on the threat posed by non-Chinese nationals.
China has banned foreign nationals from entering the country, and many travellers are being sent into 14-day quarantines either in their own accommodation or at centralised facilities.
Yet there is a sense of anger among foreigners who have been subject to widespread testing and quarantines despite having not left the country in recent weeks.
Thiam, an exchange student from Guinea, said police ordered him to stay home on Tuesday even after he tested negative for COVID-19 and told officers he had not left China in almost four years.
He believes the measures are specifically and unfairly targeting Africans.
“All the people I’ve seen tested are Africans. Chinese are walking around freely but if you’re black you can’t go out,” he said.
Then on Saturday the department issued a sharp criticism of China over how it treats Africans.
“It’s unfortunate but not surprising to see this kind of xenophobia towards Africans by Chinese authorities,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Racism grows on Chinese social media
The infections in Guangzhou have also sparked a torrent of abuse online, with many Chinese internet users posting racist comments and calling for all Africans to be deported.
Last week a controversial cartoon depicting foreigners as different types of trash to be sorted through went viral on social media.
"There's just this crazy fear that anybody who's African might have been in contact with somebody who was sick," said David, a Canadian living in Guangzhou who did not want to give his full name.
China's foreign ministry acknowledged this week that there had been some "misunderstandings" with the African community.
"I want to emphasise that the Chinese government treats all foreigners in China equally," said spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday, urging local officials to "improve their working mechanisms".
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