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Guangzhou's 'Little Africa' ep. 1: Visas a major problem for African migrants

CCTV.com

02-13-2017 13:55 BJT

Over the last decade, many thousands of African merchants have come to China's southeastern trading hub of Guangzhou to buy Chinese goods and ship them back home. Many traders have become part of the social fabric in Guangzhou, settling down to start businesses and marrying local women.

In the first instalment of a special five-part series on the lives of Africans in Guangzhou, CCTV reporter Wu Lei visited the area of the city that has become known as "Little Africa", to find out more about this unique community. 

Life isn’t easy for these African migrants, especially when it comes to getting long-term visas to live in China.

Every day, hundreds of businesspeople from over 20 African countries look for goods in Xiaobei and Dengfeng streets in Guangzhou. Locals now call this area Little Africa.

Beneath the surface, illegal immigrants are becoming a major problem. Some African traders use fake identities, and others overstay their visas. Jonathan is one of them.

Jonathan says he spent about 2,000 US dollars to buy this fake identity so he could continue doing business in Guangzhou. Others can't afford this expense and have simply taken the risk of overstaying their visas. Gabriel says when he failed to get a visa extension he was left with no choice.

"Nobody wants to overstay. You know when you overstay, it gives you many problems. If you overstay, maybe you hear the police is coming. Your heart breaks, you are afraid, you are scared," he said.

He does his best to hide from authorities. He runs the risk of deportation if he is caught without the proper documentation.

The city of Guangzhou is now one of the largest homes to African traders in Asia. Some estimates put their number at 200 thousand. Authorities say that's a gross exaggeration.

"Our statistics show over 500 thousand entries and exits by Africans via all ports in Guangzhou each year," said Pang Bo, Deputy Director, Guangzhou Entry-Exit Administration.

"The number of Africans who have lived in the city for over half a year has risen from some three-thousand in the past to more than six-thousand now."

Ojukwu Emma has lived in Guangzhou for over 15 years. As the president of the Association of Nigerian Community in China, he says the number is a controversial issue.

"Because so many of my citizens using Congo passport, using Ghana passport, using Cameroon passport, using so many different countries. And some Cameron using Nigerian passport. How can you count. So you make everything disorganized," he said.

Mr Emma says this is the norm. "When you are talking of the percent, I would tell you that almost people overstay and people using different countries' passport, is almost 70% out of 100."

It’s hard to tell if Mr. Emma's count is correct. Guangzhou police say that from January to August in 2015, they caught over 400 overstaying African traders.

"Every country has the same problem of illegal immigration. This is a test for our government. Our police department will continue to research and take effective measures to protect legal immigrants and punish the illegals," Pang Bo said.

Like any big multicultural city, Guangzhou has its problems making everyone feel at home. Authorities say China welcomes foreigners. But a valid passport and visa are necessary to visit or do business. And the police are working hard to make the city and its African community safe for everybody.