NGOs needed in Guangdong as violent robberies rise

Crimes by desperate migrant workers are now common in Guangdong, but the authorities have shuttered organisations that fought for rights

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 4:36am

Two jobless men stabbed a woman to death outside Shenzhen's police bureau headquarters in just one of a string of recent attacks by disgruntled migrant workers in Guangdong.

The woman, 36, had just finished applying for travel documents at the bureau and was preparing to leave its car park in her BMW when the two men, aged 24 and 30, robbed her of her handbag, containing some 200,000 yuan (HK$243,900) in cash, and stabbed her in the neck with a knife when she tried to resist.

The younger suspect, from Jiangxi , was arrested later the same day, while the 30-year-old, from Henan , was arrested two days later in Dongguan .

The Southern Metropolis News reported that the killing shocked the city's public security authorities and an unnamed senior official was quoted as saying it was "an open provocation to the Shenzhen police".

Members of the public said the rising level of crime in the city was making them increasingly concerned about their safety.

The newspaper said the two penniless migrant workers committed the crime after failing to find jobs and sleeping on the streets for several days.

They decided to rob a driver after seeing luxury cars parked outside the police bureau.

Crimes committed by desperate migrant workers are now common in Guangdong.

Last Saturday, a 33-year-old from Hunan was shot dead by Guangzhou police outside the city's railway station after he kidnapped an eight-year-old girl and threatened to kill her with a knife. The Nanfang Daily reported that the man was angry because a small leather factory in Guangzhou's Huadu district owed him 2,000 yuan in back pay.

On Monday morning, a 24-year-old office worker was critically injured after a 34-year-old migrant worker from Hunan tried to rob her and stabbed her in the neck at a bus station close to the Shenzhen government's headquarters.

And on Wednesday afternoon, a 29-year-old migrant worker from Hunan attacked a 49-year-old street cleaner from Sichuan with a butcher's knife in Shenzhen's Baoan district.

A year and a half after Guangdong party boss Wang Yang kicked off a "happy Guangdong" campaign, vowing to switch the focus from economic growth to the people's "real happiness", many migrant workers who live in the province say they aren't happy at all. Among the problems they face are runaway bosses, back-pay disputes, workplace injuries and unemployment.

Rather than provide a helping hand to the province's 26 million migrant workers, the Guangdong authorities have, in the past six months, shuttered at least seven Shenzhen non-government organisations that fought for migrant workers' rights. Veteran labour-rights activists described the crackdown as unprecedented.

Several activists said they were evicted from their offices after officials put pressure on their landlords by conducting frequent checks of the premises.

Mainland labour-rights NGOs often report harassment by the authorities, who fear that foreign-funded lobbying groups could organise strikes, incite protests or trigger social unrest.

Li Zhao , from the Green Grass Worker Service Centre, attributed the crackdown to the authorities' efforts to silence independent NGOs they viewed as troublemakers. "I have been told that while the government is easing its registration requirements for NGOs, it is trying to shut down all the independent ones, so only those recognised by the authorities can survive," Li said, adding that his office, on the outskirts of Baoan, was shut down in June.

On Wednesday, more than 100 academics from 15 countries signed an open letter to the Guangdong government to protest against the apparently systematic repression of the seven grass-roots labour NGOs.

"In our view, NGOs play an important role in responding to the pressing needs - including economic, social, and educational - of the large populations of migrant workers," the open letter said. "Trade unions have not historically been able to address this wide range of problems, and thus NGOs have a critical function in addressing worker issues."

Migrant workers who don't have a channel to redress their grievances are forced to turn to strikes and other forms of social unrest. Those who can't maintain their livelihoods and receive no assistance from society are at risk of joining the crime wave washing over Guangdong.

It's perplexing that Guangdong authorities still don't know how to respect the rights of tens of millions of migrant workers or realise the benefits brought by independent labour NGOs.