HONG KONG – Activists from dozens of labor rights groups marched in Hong Kong on Wednesday to protest the destruction of housing in Beijing for tens of thousands of migrant workers and eviction of the “low-end population” from the capital city.
The Beijing municipal government launched a city-wide fire safety inspection of buildings in migrant-inhabited areas following a fire in one such neighborhood that killed 19 people on Nov. 18.
Civil rights and labor activists claim the municipal government is using the tragedy to now tear down buildings deemed unsafe and evict tens of thousands of migrant worker families as part of a 40-day campaign launched last week.
“Respect laborers’ rights! Stop the persecution of underclass workers! Shame on the Beijing government!” the protesters chanted as they marched toward the Hong Kong Conference and Exhibition Centre, where the acting mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, was expected to attend the Beijing-Hong Kong Economic Cooperation Symposium.
Police barred the about 50 protesters from entering the venue but allowed them to stage a rally outside, and Chen did not attend the event, local media reported.
The South China Morning Post has reported that more than 100 scholars and social activists in mainland China have also signed an open letter urging the authorities to stop the “discriminatory” approach.
Their letter says “Beijing has an obligation to be grateful towards all Chinese citizens, instead of being forgetful and repaying the country people with arrogance, discrimination and humiliation — especially the bottom income group,” according to the Hong Kong daily.
Laborers have been migrating from the countryside to the capital for years in search of a better life. But many end up working in small shops, restaurants and factories for low pay, and living in migrant worker ghettos packed with shabby but cheap housing.
The term “low-end population” has been used for years by Beijing municipal officials to refer to the capital’s teeming population of migrant workers, whose presence in the capital has been increasing problematic as China’s economic growth has slowed over recent years, and as pressure to alleviate deadly pollution has increased.