Beijing’s Communist Party chief has finally waded into a storm of controversy over a wave of evictions on the fringes of the Chinese capital, warning against “hastiness” in a crackdown on safety threats in the aftermath of a deadly fire.
Law enforcement officers seal a hotel during a citywide safety inspection after a deadly fire in a residential block in Beijing earlier this month. Photo: Reuters
Speaking publicly for the first time about tens of thousands of mostly migrant workers driven out of “illegal structures” in the south of the city, Beijing party boss Cai Qi told a government meeting on safety that those evicted should be given time to move out, the official Beijing Daily reported on Monday.
Authorities have ordered thousands of people to leave a sprawling network of rented accommodation in a 40-day campaign launched after a fire ripped through a two-storey building in Xihongmen, Daxing district, just over a week ago, killing 19 people.
As part of the crackdown, officials also shut down small plants, shops and restaurants, in some cases cutting electricity and water supply without notice.
Beijing party boss Cai Qi (centre) addresses a meeting on the safety in the capital. Photo: Mp.weixin.qq.com
Cai said the campaign should not be carried out in a simplistic and hasty manner, the report said.
“[We] need to pay attention to humanitarian care, and step up help to those in difficulty,” he was quoted as saying.
But the capital’s new party boss, who took office in May, also pledged to advance the campaign and cage “the ‘grey rhinos’ that threaten the city’s safety”, referring to big and neglected dangers.
Cai said the deadly fire and allegations of child abuse at a Beijing kindergarten this month had both “touched the bottom line of the capital’s safety and stability”.
Residents mill in the street after local authorities start to close overcrowded rental housing in southern Beijing. Photo: Imaginechina
“We are facing challenges in developing the city safely,” he said. “[We] must make ensuring the capital’s safety and stability our biggest political task.”
Despite the assurances, employers are scrambling to house migrant employees and keep them in the area.
Hu Zhiqiang, 35, owner of a home decoration company said he was desperate. “My eight workers used to share a basement in a residential building downtown. But the authorities have decided the basement is dangerous since the Daxing fire. So I have to rent two flats for them – and no bunk beds are allowed,” Hu said. He said the situation was worse for 20 or so other workers in Daxing that he used to contract to. “They have all been evicted. Some are trying hard to rent a new home, while some are planning to leave for their hometown and never come back,” Hu said. “I’ve never felt so helpless. Costs are rising sharply. Maybe someday I will close the business and leave the city.”
A notice on a door says the tenants must move out amid a safety crackdown in Beijing’s Daxing district. Photo: Imaginechina
Some bigger companies were faring better, with JD.com, the country’s second-largest e-commerce firm and a major employer of couriers, housing workers in its dormitories and offering some funds for relocation, according to a report on Sina.com. The company was not available for comment.
The 40-day campaign has attracted strong criticism and generated an outpouring of sympathy for the people forced onto the street.
In a protest letter to the leadership last week, more than 100 intellectuals labelled the campaign “ruthless” and “a serious violation of human rights”.
Amid the outcry, the municipal government has asked grass-roots cadres to spend more time communicating with migrant workers before evicting them.
“The government has paid a high level of attention to it and it has ordered [local officials] to immediate eradicate these problems [of hasty evictions],” the authority said. Cai said earlier that the government should help the evicted migrants look for new jobs.
Xihongmen held its first job fair for migrant workers on Monday afternoon, according to Beijing Youth Daily. Temporary accommodation and train tickets to their hometown were also provided.