Envoy rejects claims Kenyans slept on the streets

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Kenyan ambassador to China Sarah Serem. PHOTO/COURTESY

Kenya’s Ambassador to China Sarah Serem is rejecting claims that Kenyans lodged on the streets in China after they were thrown out of their houses or hotels.

Ms Serem, speaking for the first time in the face of growing accusations that the government has left stranded Kenyans on their own, indicated the Embassy had intervened in all cases of forced evictions.

“None that we know of slept in the streets and none that we know of was evacuated from their houses,” Ms Serem said in a statement.

“The Embassy intervened in some cases where landlords had threatened Kenyans. These were all either retained in their house or taken to designated hotels funded by local authorities.”

A number of Kenyans living in China have accused the Embassy of sitting on its hands as China imposed a draconian policy of testing suspected Covid-19 patients, including quarantining them.

Many Kenyans who have braved the coronavirus pandemic now face attacks on streets, parks, their homes and hostels, and in shopping malls.

Last week, videos of Africans emerged where they protested sleeping on the streets in Guangzhou after being evicted from their houses or hotels.

Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong Province, has a significant African population with about 7,000 Kenyans. The government admitted that some Kenyans were locked out of their homes or hotels during the anti-pandemic lockdown, but were later released.

‘EXPIRED VISA’

Yesterday, Ms Serem also refuted the account of one Beatrice ‘Brenda’ ‘Queen’ Nduta who had accused the Mission in Beijing of refusing to provide accommodation for her when she was ejected from her home.

Ms Nduta visited the Embassy on April 6 to seek refuge, claiming she had been thrown out of a residence where she put up with a friend. The Embassy argues this was a public holiday in China.

“She has lived in China since 2017 on an expired visa. She therefore does not have valid China immigration status for her residence and accommodation,” Ms Serem said of Ms Nduta who had been living in Shandong Province.

“Although she claims to have spent the night outside the Embassy and was rained on, the truth of the matter is she was accommodated by friends while in Beijing. The Embassy officials came to her rescue, did a quick harambee of RMB3100 (Sh46,500) and off she left to stay with friends until now. Beatrice is the Secretary of one of the Kenyan welfare groups in China.”

The Kenyan government argues that it protested to the Chinese government against any maltreatment of its nationals. It has offered to airlift those who want out of the country, but at their own cost.

BUYING OWN FLIGHT TICKETS

By Wednesday, officials said some 154 Kenyans had registered with the Embassy to buy their own tickets. More will have to register for Kenya Airways to send an aircraft.

It remains unclear whether those willing to fly, but unable to foot the cost of a ticket, will be assisted.

A majority of Kenyans in China are students on Chinese scholarships. Officially, there are about 12,00 Kenyan students, most of who are on those scholarships.

The Chinese government ordered them quarantined on campuses.

There are also about 1,000 Kenyans who live in China, doing businesses. Another 200 live as professionals, teaching English, working for international organisations or technology companies.

China has also jailed 54 Kenyans who are serving various sentences.

But the Embassy said there are as many as 400 Kenyans who have overstayed their visas and are doing private jobs or doing small businesses. Most of these would be deported if found.

“In the wake of Covid-19, majority of them are unable to continue staying undercover and have been forced out by lack of income,” she said.

“Some of these have faced rent issues and where the Embassy has been alerted, intervention with local authorities has been made.”

What Serem says she did to protect Kenyans:
•Joined other African envoys to protest to Beijing about maltreatment of Africans
•Intervened against unfair supervised quarantines, in favour of self-isolation for Kenyans
•Advised Foreign Ministry in Kenya of the situation to authorize evacuation if need be
•Worked with Kenyan diaspora associations in China to respect Chinese regulations on Covid-19
•Engaged the government of China to ease the immigration operations until the Covid-19 situation improves to enable the Kenyans travel back home. Several cases of threatened evictions which the Embassy intervened and helped resolve in conjunction with the local authorities.