Fire Sparks Mass Evictions of Migrants From China’s Capital

fire-migrants-11242017.jpg Montage of migrant workers fleeing a crackdown in the wake of a deadly fire that destroyed an apartment building at a factory in Beijing's southern district of Daxing on Nov. 18.

Thousands of Beijing tenants, mostly migrant workers, are being evicted from their homes in a crackdown on unlicensed developments after a fatal fire last week.

Nineteen people died, eight of them children, when the blaze ripped through an apartment building at a factory in the southern district of Daxing on Nov. 18.

Now, the authorities have launched a city-wide crackdown on unlicensed rented accommodation, and thousands of low-paid migrant workers are being forced from their homes, official media reported on Friday.

The Beijing city government’s work safety committee has launched a 40-day crackdown on buildings with potential fire hazards, targeting industrial and logistics warehouses, former agricultural properties remodeled and let as residential apartments, and ‘older buildings’ in downtown areas, official media reported.

A document issued by the Fengtai district government and seen by RFA called on 10 government departments including police and firefighters to work together to identify hazardous enterprises and “premises inhabited by low-income groups” in the crackdown.

And a taskforce set up by the Haidian district government sent out an emergency directive, a copy of which was sent to RFA, calling for the immediate eviction of tenants from any unlicensed residential premises “within three days.”

And authorities in the Beijing suburb of Changping said they were targeting four kinds of electrical refrigeration appliances of the kind blamed for the Daxing fire for testing.

“Anyone found living in accommodation where such appliances exist must immediately be removed from Beijing with no refund for rental or deposits ... already paid.”

The crackdown has made thousands homeless, according to official media reports.

But a resident of Daxing said fires of this kind are a regular occurrence in China.

“The … fire is being used as a trigger to remove these people from the city overnight,” the resident said. “China has always been this cruel; it’s being going on since 1949.”

“People’s morality has become distorted, and they have become numb to it,” she said. “The state machinery is huge and powerful, and can confiscate your land whenever it chooses, so you have no freedom.”

“Even the Communist Party itself is afraid, because it could be removed from power in an instant,” she said.

Crackdown getting more intense

A journalist who asked to remain anonymous said the crackdown is a particularly harsh one amid many targeting migrant workers in more affluent Chinese cities.

“There have always been drives to get rid of migrants, but now it’s getting more intense,” the journalist said. “It’s getting that way across the whole of Beijing now.”

“I know, because I live in a place like that too,” he said. “They do it when people least expect it, moving very suddenly to get rid of these people as quickly as possible.”

“The lower-ranking officials see it as an opportunity [for advancement], so they really carry it out with a vengeance.”

But he said journalists operating under strict media controls daren’t report it in detail.

“What can we do about it? The moment you post something like that, it would be immediately deleted,” he said.

Requests for an interview with a Beijing municipal official met with no response by the time of writing.

Calls to the information office of the city government rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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