CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 8 December 2018

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Beijing becoming gated community

BEIJING (UCAN): In what is slowly turning Beijing into a gated community where only the right people are welcome, tens of thousands of internal migrant workers are being forced out of the capital of China in an ongoing drive to rid the streets of what the government terms its low-end population.
 
In the wake of a fire that broke out in a low income area of Daxing on November 18, the authorities began a purge to evict migrant workers.
 
State media reported that the low-end population engaged in wholesale markets or low- and mid-level industry do not belong in megacities like Beijing.
 
The migrant workers have been denied official urban household registration, which is essentially an urban passport that gives access to education, healthcare, property and even a driving licence, is highly competitive and mostly only available to the well off and well educated. 
 
“The main reason that officials are driving out migrants is that they want to control urban sprawl and limit the size of Beijing,” Timothy Heath, a senior international defence research analyst at the RAND Corporation, said.
 
“They also want to make Beijing more of a wealthy, prosperous city. So they are purposefully targeting low-income migrants whom they have characterised as undesirable or low end,” Heath explained.
 
In the Daxing area where the purge began, the government is now building the world’s largest international airport, which is slated to open sometime in 2019.
 
Although the purge began in Daxing, migrant workers across the capital have been in the crosshairs since November.
 
Information provided to the British Broadcasting Corporation mapping the eviction process shows that they are happening in dozens of parts of the city.
 
“This policy risks exacerbating China’s problem of inequality and making Beijing a gated community of well-to-do urbanites, who are cut off from their less prosperous neighbours,” Heath said.
 
The forced evictions have come under widespread and poignant criticism in Beijing, which is unusual for China because of the backlash involved in speaking against the government.
 
Beijing-based artist, Hua Yong, said he is on the run from the authorities after posting videos of the clearing of the buildings where the migrants lived. It is estimated that around 100,000 have been affected to date.
 
“Popular sentiment on the Internet seems to be incredibly anti-government and public intellectuals have rallied to the cause of the migrant workers in a way that hasn’t been seen in years,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said.
 
“This could be seen as a significant incident that damages government legitimacy as actually existing to serve the people,” he added.
 
The Guardian reported that more than 100 intellectuals have signed an open letter slamming the campaign which is driving migrant workers out of town.
 
They criticise the authorities for the speed of the action and breaching the rule of law. Earlier in December, hundreds of people organised demonstrations against what they termed the violation of human rights.
 
Large-scale protests in Beijing are rare, because of the threat they can bring to those who take part. They can be liable to be detained or even forcibly disappeared.
Smaller protests and confrontations have broken out, but this is the largest and best organised to date.
 
Reuters reported that some of the evicted are still huddled in their condemned homes in Beijing and are shivering through the harsh winter without electricity or heating.
 
“Poor migrants have few choices,” Maya Wang, from the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, said. “They may continue to try to find ways to live in cities, making use of legal grey areas or just lack of enforcement, or they may conclude that they’d be better off staying in the rural areas for now.”
 
In the spring of this year, the government started aggressively bricking up the city’s alleyways where migrants had often operated ground-level restaurants and stores.
 
While the government called it a beautification project, the campaign to brick up the back alleys was widely criticised as a veiled crackdown on migrant workers.
 
China has for a long time tried to limit Beijing’s population through the urban registration system, which was widely institutionalised under Mao Zedong in the 1950s.

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