Race relations are tense in Guangzhou following protests after a Nigerian man died in police custody on June 18.
The man had been involved in a fare dispute with a Chinese electronic bicycle driver. A crowd of onlookers formed. Both men were taken into police custody, and by evening, the Nigerian was dead. Guangzhou officials said in a statement that the Nigerian had “lost consciousness suddenly” and that “the police has been carrying out investigations according to law.” Other reported rumors are that he was beaten to death by the crowd.
Nigerian press is reporting that the man was a 28-year-old Nigerian businessman, Celestine Elebechi.
On June 20, there were protests by somewhere between 100 and 500 Africans living in Guangzhou, who were up in arms about the Nigerian’s death. They blocked traffic in front of the police station. Banners read, “Give us the dead body.” The Wall Street journal is reporting that some 300 policemen gathered along the road to confront the protesters.
The Nigerian Embassy has requested an official investigation into the death of their national.
In 2009, another Nigerian died in Guangzhou after police carried out visa checks in an area where foreign vendors worked. The man jumped out of a second-floor window to escape the police because he had overstayed his visa. That incident also resulted in dozens of Africans mounting protests at a Guangzhou police station.
At least 100,000 Africans are believed to live in Guangzhou, including around 10,000 Nigerians. Many are involved in trade, and Guangzhou is one of China’s biggest manufacturing hubs. The community’s focal point is the neighborhood sometimes called Little Africa, Chocolate City, or Promised Land (after the Canaan market there).
Some cities in China, including Beijing, are currently in the middle of crackdowns on the “three illegals” by foreigners–unlawful entry to China, unauthorized employment, and illegal residence in China. The campaign is being publicized through posters showing a clenched fist “striking hard” on illegal activity.
Also, a draft of a new Exit-Entry Management Law has been introduced in China’s National People’s Congress (NPC). The law would create a centralized records system to track information regarding foreigners in China, allowing sharing among the currently disconnected systems housed in the public security, foreign affairs, and other departments; it would provide for the fingerprinting of foreigners upon entering China and applying for residence permits; and it would enhance overstay and illegal employment penalties.
China is experiencing a new trend of economic immigration, at the same time that emigration continues. The driving forces behind the trend are the nation’s economic growth and changing demography. There may be further unease in relations between Chinese and immigrants.