Beijing has declared a campaign to evict hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from so-called illegal structures, in the wake of a fire that killed 19 people. These “illegal structures” housed millions of migrant workers.
The eviction campaign came after a fire ripped through a two-story building in Xihongmen, Daxing district, and most of those killed were migrant workers.
Beijing party boss Cai Qi has ordered a 40-day campaign to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from these so-called urban villages.
Beijing and Shanghai are the political and financial centers of China, respectively, and both cities have valuable political, economic, education, healthcare and cultural resources. Millions of migrant workers are drawn to these cities to pursue their dreams there.
A sprawling network of rented accommodation can be found in both Beijing and Shanghai. Many of these apartments are subdivided flats without windows, and cost as low as 1,000 yuan per month. That means if someone can find a job that pays a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan, they can settle down in their dream cities.
Official data shows that Beijing currently has some 200 “illegal structures”, which house about one million migrant workers. However, it’s widely believed that the government data has underestimated the number of migrant workers living in these urban villages.
As a rough gauge, Beijing has a population of 21.5 million while only 13.6 million have hukou or are permanent registered residents. Shanghai has a population of 24.15 million but only 14.3 million are included in the city’s household registration system.
Migrant workers have made great contribution to these cities by providing cheap labor to restaurants, courier firms, construction sites, retail shops and a host of small factories in Beijing and Shanghai.
However, in recent years, factories in both cities have been relocated and fewer infrastructure projects are under way. Meanwhile, the authorities are keen to upgrade various industries, therefore, migrant workers without specific skills are finding it increasingly hard to make a living.
But most of them still prefer to stay in the big cities to try their luck, as there won’t be much job opportunities for them if they return home or move to other cities.
Why can’t local governments of these big cities provide subsidized housing for them? Perhaps the authorities are concerned such “benefits” would attract more of these “unwanted” migrants.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 29
Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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