Protests in Northern China As Migrants' Children Excluded From Schools

Migrant workers in Shaanxi province fear that an official policy of getting rid of low-income groups may be spreading across the country from Beijing.

Men shovel debris in Beijing's Baiqiangzi village, which is mainly inhabited by migrant workers, Dec. 13, 2017

As Beijing clears thousands of low-income migrant workers from the city following fatal dormitory fires, authorities in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi have stepped up requirements for school enrollments in Yulin city, prompting protests from parents, local residents said.

Migrant workers who brought their children to live with them in Yulin's Yuyang district have been informed by provincial education bureau officials that they must now provide extra paperwork, including proof of purchase of compulsory pension insurance, before they can enroll them in local schools.

Earlier this week, hundreds of migrant workers gathered outside the provincial bureau of education with banners protesting the new rules, because they say insurance premiums are beyond their means, given their low income.

A migrant worker surnamed Xu who attended the protest said insurance, at around 5,000 yuan annually, is beyond her means on earnings of between 2,000-3,000 yuan a month.

"This isn't affordable for low-income families like us," Xu said. "Parents have been petitioning outside the gate of the Yuyang education bureau in the past couple of days, calling on them to waive this rule."

Calls to the Yulin and Yuyang education bureaux rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.

"Children have a basic, constitutional right to an education, so why do they insist on making it impossible for them to attend school?" Xu
said. "We strongly urge the education bureau to reconsider, so that our children can go to school."

The move comes as migrant workers in Beijing accuse the authorities of violent, mass evictions, often with no warning and with the loss or destruction of all of their belongings.

Activists estimate at least 100,000 people have been turfed out of low-cost rented accommodation in the city, where they were making a living as independent traders or manual workers.

Meanwhile, workers in the northern province of Shanxi have come out in protest after the authorities suddenly moved to confiscate their coal-burning stoves, for many the only form of heating they have in sub-zero temperatures.

Extreme cold with no heat

A resident of Shanxi's Linfen city surnamed Kang said he now has no way to stay warm.

"I used to rely on a coal-burning stove, but now the environmental protection task force has stopped all that," Kang said. "They have also cut off the pipes [to the central heating] so that a lot of places here in Dongcheng district have no heating at all."

"A lot of people are really suffering in the extreme cold," he said. "We have natural gas connected up now, but it doesn't give off enough heat."

Authorities in Beijing have stepped up mass evictions of low-income migrant workers and small traders in the wake of a second fire in Beijing's Chaoyang district after five people were killed and nine others injured after a blaze from two electric bicycles tore through a residential building Shibalidian earlier this week.

Activists have told RFA that thousands of migrants have been made homeless in sub-zero temperatures in Beijing in recent weeks, with some estimates putting the total around 100,000.

China's migrant population, drawn to cities and pushed out of poorer areas by mass layoffs and rural land grabs since the 1990s, has risen in recent years to more than 200 million, nearly one-fifth of the population.

The majority of migrant workers who flock to bigger cities in search of manual labor in factories and on construction sites are from a farming background.

But their search for a better life for themselves and their families is hampered by a discriminatory "household registration," or hukou, system that limits access to services like healthcare and education to natives of a given area.

The resident population of Beijing has swelled by 59 percent since the start of the century, with an increase of 56 percent reported by neighboring Tianjin and a 50 percent rise in Shanghai.

The majority of migrants hail from the central provinces of Henan, Anhui and Hunan, while their top destinations are the rich coastal provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, according to a map published this year by the search engine and online encyclopedia Baidu.

Reported by Qiao Long and Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.