Cameroon Sees Chinese Migrant Wave from Central African Republic

Soldiers of the Territorial Intervention Brigade 6 (BIT6) of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) patrol 1km from the front line, in Boali, on January 10, 2021. (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP) (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES/AFP via Getty Images)
FLORENT VERGNES/AFP via Getty Images

More than 250 foreign workers, mostly Chinese, have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) for the Cameroon border town of Garoua Boulay over the past week, Cameroon government authorities said on Monday.

Roughly 152 of the 250 foreign workers were Chinese miners, merchants, and construction engineers working in CAR.

“The foreign workers say they are being targeted by rebel groups disgruntled with the C.A.R.’s December 27 presidential election that saw Faustin-Archange Touadera reelected,” Voice of America (VOA) reported on January 11.

“Armed rebel groups began threatening Chinese mining workers after the December 27 elections in the CAR,” a man named Li Yu, 23, who said he was a spokesman for the Chinese workers fleeing CAR for Cameroon, told VOA.

“The situation worsened during the first week of January when groups of heavily armed men started searching their [Chinese workers’] homes, looting and asking all Chinese citizens to leave or be killed,” Li said.

CAR’s military assisted some of the foreign workers in fleeing to the Cameroon border, according to Li.

News of the Chinese workers fleeing CAR’s post-election violence comes just three weeks after the country’s Chinese embassy said it had evacuated about 250 Chinese nationals “to a safer area” after eight Chinese mining company vehicles were stolen during armed conflict ahead of the nation’s December 27 general election.

“Eight vehicles and other property belonging to four Chinese mining companies were stolen. No Chinese citizens were injured,” the Chinese embassy, located in CAR’s capital, Bengui, said in a statement on December 23.

“About 250 were evacuated to a safe place as the situation became more tense in ensuing days,” the embassy added, without revealing if the Chinese nationals were still in CAR.

The December 27 election saw Faustin-Archange Touadera reelected president of the Central African Republic with more than 53 percent of the vote. CAR’s government on December 3 barred former CAR President Francois Bozize from participating in the presidential election as a candidate. The decision led rebel groups to march on the capital, Bangui, an action which CAR’s ruling government has described as a coup attempt. Various rebel groups have been engaged in armed conflict with CAR government forces since then.

China’s relationship with CAR is limited but has shown signs of progressing over the past few years. Unlike many other African nations, CAR has yet to sign on to Beijing’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). President Touadera expressed support for the BRI in a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018 after attending the seventh annual Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing.

“China has taken steps to cultivate a relationship with Touadéra’s government over the past year by donating military vehicles, sending medical teams, and establishing a China-CAR Friendship Village [in CAR],” the U.S. Institute of Peace noted in December 2019.

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