More than a hundred Chinese intellectuals and scholars have decried a “ruthless” campaign to evict thousands of migrant workers from Beijing. The latest round of evictions began in the wake of a fire on 18 November that killed 19 people in an industrial neighbourhood in south Beijing, and 17 of the victims were migrants. City officials have declared a 40-day campaign against “illegal structures”, which for years have housed the millions of migrant workers who run Beijing’s restaurants, delivery companies, construction sites, retail shops and a host of small factories.
The open letter, which was addressed to the country’s leadership and circulated on Chinese social media, called the evictions “a serious trampling of human rights”. Signatories included professors, researchers, poets and artists and more names continued to be added. It criticised the lack of due process and rapid speed at which the campaign was being implemented. Videos and photos posted on social media showed streets clogged with clothes and other belongings after migrants were given just minutes to pack up. Many who had lived in the Chinese capital for years were only allowed to take what they could carry before police sealed entire buildings. Authorities reportedly cut water and electrical service in some cases.
“Any civilised and law abiding society cannot tolerate this, we must clearly condemn and oppose these actions,” the letter said. The haphazard nature of the mass evictions make it difficult to determine exactly how many people have been displaced. Migrants are being forced from their homes at the start of Beijing’s winter and temperature have hovered around freezing for the past week.
China operated a national “household registration” system designed to control internal movement, meaning migrant workers lack many of the rights compared to native Beijingers. The system has been widely criticised for years and officials have pledged reform but have made little progress. Beijing officials have targeted a 15% cut in population of the downtown districts from 2014 levels within the next two years. That amounts to a reduction of about two million people, and authorities have also plan to demolish 40m square metres of illegal housing.
“It’s somewhat astounding that the large numbers of migrant workers could be evicted so quickly, but this is in part because the Chinese authorities have systematically eroded all the ways people can protect their rights,” said William Nee, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “And, of course, China maintains the world’s largest censorship apparatus, so that it’s hard to meaningfully debate issues of injustice.” But Beijing officials denied they were targeting migrant workers at all, and said it was focused on safety. “It is irresponsible and groundless to say the campaign is to evict the ‘low-end population’,” an official from the Beijing Administration of Work Safety told local media.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/27/china-ruthless-campaign-evict-beijings-migrant-workers-condemned