Amid Dwindling Supplies, Africans Are Trapped In China's Coronavirus Epicenter

Feb 20, 2020
Originally published on February 20, 2020 6:09 am
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The United States and other countries continue to evacuate their citizens from areas hardest hit by the new coronavirus. But thousands of African students in Wuhan are stuck. Their governments have told them they don't have the means to get them out. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Dozens of African students at Wuhan University of Science and Technology staged a silent protest last week. A video posted online showed them wearing white masks, staring at the camera, holding signs, saying please, please, please bring us home. In Nigeria, local TV ran a separate video plea from an unnamed Nigerian student.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I'm a resident of Wuhan. And I'm here to plead with the government to please help us go home.

PERALTA: Abraham Pius (ph), a 20-year-old Tanzanian student, has remained in his campus apartment for a month. He told NPR he only leaves to buy food downstairs at the cafeteria. And every minute, he worries about infection.

ABRAHAM PIUS: It's scary because whenever you go out in your room, you feel like maybe you have it or maybe you've got it.

PERALTA: Pius says over the past few weeks, he has seen international students from other countries evacuated. At his university, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, he says it's mostly Africans who have been left behind.

PIUS: It's crazy because most of the African students are here. Like, I don't think any Africans evacuated, no.

PERALTA: According to Development Reimagined, a consultancy that keeps tabs on Africans in China, almost 5,000 African students live in Hubei province. And with the exception of the Seychelles, not one country in sub-Saharan Africa has evacuated its citizens. Nigerian lawmakers overwhelmingly voted down a motion to repatriate their students, saying China has better means to take care of them. Uganda's health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng, was called to Parliament, where she explained it would be unsafe to bring their students back.

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JANE RUTH ACENG: Does Uganda have the capacity to handle a coronavirus outbreak? In terms of specialized isolation facilities with specialized equipment, my answer is no.

PERALTA: Pius says he felt abandoned and angry. But now he has come to terms.

PIUS: The thing is, like, I just have to take care of myself, and that's all.

PERALTA: He is on his own, he says, and there's nothing he can do about it.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF NELS CLINE'S "THE BOND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.