Authorities in the Chinese capital were continuing on Monday to evict the city’s out-of-town migrant population in the wake of a fire that left 19 people dead earlier this month, with many being made homeless in sub-zero temperatures.
As officials in Beijing’s Daxing district government officials continued to evict migrants, many of whom hail from neighboring Hebei province and the eastern province of Zhejiang, from their “unlicensed” rental premises, many said they have no money and nowhere left to go.
“I’m from Hebei, and I work in the textiles industry,” one worker told RFA. “I have now been forced to move three times, twice this year and once last year. I’m never coming back to Beijing.”
Beijing-based artist and rights activist Hua Yong, who has spent the past few days in Daxing finding out about the evictions and trying to help those affected, said at least 100,000 people have been forced out of the city, some by the authorities switching off their heating so they can’t stay warm.
“The [remaining] evictees still have water and electricity over there in Daxing but they have no heating and no supermarkets to shop for groceries, because they have all been shut down,” Hua said.
“All of the hotels and guesthouses have been shut down too, so that you have to drive about three kilometers (1.86 miles) to find one that is still open,” he said.
Chen Yongqiang, vice mayor of Daxing’s Xixinmen township promised on Monday that the government will provide transitional accommodation to “eligible” affected people and provide return tickets for those who wish to return to their hometowns.
And an official who answered the phone at the Xihongmen township government said it had set up a temporary rescue service to provide temporary emergency help to evictees most in need.
Nineteen people died, eight of them children, when a blaze ripped through an apartment building at a factory in the southern district of Daxing on Nov. 18.
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.
Government documents 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.
Beijing rights activist Ye Jinghuan said he believes the government is using the Daxing fire as a pretext to rid the city of the low-paid migrant worker population.
He said authorities in Beijing’s Chaoyang district quickly followed suit with an announcement requiring out-of-town migrants to leave.
“This fire just happened, and some people died, so they thought this was a good opportunity, and now they are moving them out of all of the districts,” Ye said.
“But the plan was already in place, including targets for how many people should be driven away from each district, hundreds of thousands of them,” he said.
Beijing universities have rallied to the migrants’ cause setting up temporary shelters for homeless migrant workers staffed by volunteers.
A group of academics penned an open letter to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee last week, calling for an end to the mass evictions and criticizing the government for violating the migrants’ human rights.
Constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan said he had signed the letter because China should abide by its own constitution.
“They say they want social stability, but then they carry out a mass operation that is inherently destabilizing,” Zhang said. “It is discriminatory to target the low-income population.”
“And yet all of our leaders once came from rural areas.”
Fellow signatory Wang Jiangsong said the evictions were in breach of President Xi Jinping’s policy of running China according to law.
“There is a direct clash with [Xi’s policies], and if you are going to move these groups of people, you have to have an overall plan or strategy for that, and it needs to be done legally, and in an orderly manner,” he said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to and Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.