No more green pastures

By Gemma Ware

Posted on Friday, 29 January 2010 11:03

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis from the people making the news in Africa each week.

An estimated 20,000 Africans live, work and trade in China, around 7,000 of them Nigerian. Nigeria’s trade with China now stands at $7bn a year, but relations between migrants and Chinese authorities have not been smooth.

Ahead of an investigation by journalist Namvula Rennie into life for Africans migrants in Guangzhou, China’s ‘Chocolate City’, published next week in The Africa Report February-March edition, we interview Ademola Oladele, minister of public communications at the Nigerian embassy in Beijing.

The Africa Report: Guangzhou experienced angry protests from African residents in July 2009 after the reported death of a Nigerian in an immigration raid. How has the situation improved since then?

Ademola Oladele: The first impression to correct is that there was no death of a Nigerian as a result of the July incident. There was an accident involving two Nigerians, one severe, one less severe. The one that was less severe, he was discharged early and the second one stayed a little longer.

The situation that happened in Guangzhou was not only a target for the Nigerians alone. Africans living in Guangzhou said that they are being unduly victimised by the authorities. It was a pent-up reaction really. They said that the security operatives were extolling them. Corruption is a give and take, somebody must be a supplier, the other must be a demander.

Nigerians are the majority residents of the Africans in Guangzhou. Perhaps that is why it is so pronounced, and because the victims there were Nigerians too. But by and large things have really calmed down. The embassy is on top of the situation. We have regular ongoing meetings, consultation by both sides. We did a consular seminar in which high officials from Nigeria visited China to meet with high officials from the Chinese side, both in Guangzhou and in Beijing. We have certain far-reaching agreements in terms of how best to integrate our people into Chinese society.

They’ve been living fine now and the issue of visas has been sorted out. If anybody’s staying illegally, or happening to overstay, the embassy has been informed and the embassy gets in touch and asks for the necessary papers to be filled out and people to be repatriated without having to be molested. So far the embassy and the authorities are co-operating well.

The Nigerians are settling down, integrating well into the society. They know the norms. They know the rules and regulations and the dos and the don’ts. Nigerians are getting married to some of the Chinese. You know we are happy people and very energetic, and people all over the world appreciate us for that.

Still, one of main problems for Nigerians and Africans coming to live in China is one of visas and visa extensions. How does the embassy deal with these visa issues?

Visa regulation is at the discretion of the receiving country. Where there are restrictions because of certain irritants or perceived irritants like criminal movements, certainly they have the right to restrict. But our concern is that we should not be singled out. They shouldn’t be for Nigerians alone. Irrationality of the few should not cancel the rationality of the many.

I believe that the majority of Nigerians are law-abiding and they go about their trade. That is not to say that every Nigerian who wants to come to China should be subjected to the same restriction. There should be a mechanism put in place by the authorities concerned to separate the Pauls from the Barnabuses – as we say in the Bible – to make sure that the few that are not good should be separated.

It was perceived, but it is now proved, that it wasn’t Nigerians alone that are in the high rate of criminal groups in China. Of course, you know with our population of so many millions, any black person they pick, the first thing that comes to the mind of the security agencies is ‘oh, he or she must be from Nigeria’. That is the perception.

Is that perception beginning to change?

The perception is beginning to change because there is now greater collaboration between the mission, the Nigerian community, the Nigerian people themselves and even the authorities. Green pastures are becoming brown everywhere now. Green pastures – which was the main reason for people moving for this kind of mass migration, mass exodus to the Western and Eastern countries – are no more green. Even for the nationals, it’s becoming brown. The focus will be at home. People are now being sensitised on the danger of going out with illegal papers, going out to be stranded. The campaign is going on at home and at various posts. People are now aware of the danger of just jumping into the plane and travelling somewhere, only to be stranded and become criminal eventually. So the movement is becoming less attractive.

Do you think there’s been a drop in Nigerians coming to China since July?

That shouldn’t be a question, because if there’s a drop in exchange of visits between two countries, that will assume that there’s a drop in the level of relationship. We shouldn’t expect a drop. We should expect an increase in the positive trend – that is less criminality. We haven’t seen a drop in the movement of people in terms of coming for generic trade, coming for government business, coming to negotiate joint-ventures, coming for investment. We should say we are also witnessing a drop in terms of criminal movement, because now we don’t have much news about Mr X or Miss Y being arrested. At less there’s a drop in those kinds of reports, which means that things are moving in a better way.

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