BEIJING – The streets of several Beijing suburbs were deserted on Wednesday since thousands of migrants were evicted to allow for the demolition of buildings that were deemed unsafe.
Life in the district of Daxing, in the south of the capital, has drastically changed over the last few months; buildings have been replaced by piles of rubble after a series of demolitions left the area resembling a ghost town.
Zhang (real name withheld to protect his identity), who was forced to close his hair salon, his only source of income, due to the demolitions, told EFE that the government had thrown all of the residents out, forcing them to close their businesses despite them having the proper permits and licenses.
The residents’ problems began after a fire on Nov. 18 last year in the neighborhood caused by an electric failure killed 19 people, including eight children.
The authorities responded by launching a campaign to improve the security of the households in Beijing and its suburbs, culminating in the mass eviction of thousands of people, many of them undocumented migrants, from buildings deemed to be unsafe.
Although the incinerated building is still standing, several surrounding it have been bulldozed.
Wang, another resident who used a false name, pointed to a pile of debris, where there once stood a clothing factory which was demolished in December, evicting those living and working there.
Wang told EFE that local families that were affected moved to other areas of Beijing, but many of the migrants were forced to return to their home provinces.
The exodus has contributed to an overall decrease in Beijing’s population, which dropped by 22,000 people to 21.7 million in 2017, the first decrease recorded in 17 years, according to recent official figures.
Although the migrants have long been vital for Beijing’s growth and have occupied the toughest and worst paid jobs, China wants to limit the city’s population to 23 million from 2020 onwards in order to reduce overpopulation and in turn, the city’s notorious air pollution.
Accordingly, the government plans to create a new economic zone, Xiongan, 130 kilometers (81 miles) to the south of the capital, which will give the city a breather.
In order to reduce the number of undocumented migrants in the city, authorities have started to inspect homes to verify that its occupants are registered and living there legally.
The situation residents face in Daxing is not unique, with other suburbs of Beijing, such as Changping, undergoing similar transitions.
Wang says that the government offered around 100.000 yuan ($15,681) to each family as compensation for the evictions; nine people were detained for a month when they protested and refused to leave.
Although he has not been evicted by the demolitions, Wang is forced to travel 10 kilometers to find a supermarket or a school which his son can attend.
Those who remain in these “ghost” neighborhoods do so based on promises from authorities that new buildings will replace the piles of rubble and debris that litter the once thriving area.