Checks ordered on Chinese shelters after 20 deaths at ‘filthy refuge’

Officials from Guangdong centre arrested and hundreds of residents relocated after fatalities ignite outcry over conditions for disadvantaged

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 10:06pm

China on Wednesday ordered urgent checks of homeless shelters across the country after reports that 20 people died in less than two months in one centre in Guangdong province.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said local authorities should check the qualifications, facilities, services and safety of all centres, including those outsourcing services to the private sector.

It called for the immediate termination of services that did not pass inspection, and proper arrangements for those receiving care in such centres.

The alarm was raised initially by the death of 15-year-old boy Lei Wenfeng from typhoid at a shelter in Xinfeng county, Shaoguan, in December. Lei, who was autistic, had been in the centre for six weeks before his death.

An investigation by the Beijing News then revealed that 20 people died at the shelter between January 1 and February 18. The deaths, particularly of the boy, ignited a public outcry over the lack of care for disadvantaged groups.

The shelter was housed in a former detention centre, was overcrowded and had poor sanitary conditions, the Beijing News cited sources as saying.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that the person in charge and other employees of the facility had been arrested.

County chief says death rate at homeless shelter ‘relatively high’

A preliminary investigation found the facility failed to meet care criteria set by the civil affairs authorities, CCTV reported. Officials at the centre were suspected of embezzlement.

The Shaoguan government said on Monday that the shelter was closed at the start of this month and “appropriate arrangements” made for its 733 residents.

Some of the residents were sent to a relief station in Guangdong, and of those more than 10 had tuberculosis. Others had syphilis or AIDS, the newspaper cited a source as saying.

A hospital and relief station in Huizhou took in 13 of the Xinfeng residents. A Huizhou civil affairs official said roughly six of the new arrivals had infectious diseases, including hepatitis B, tuberculosis and syphilis.

The official said the Huizhou station had previously sent some of its residents with infectious diseases to the Xinfeng shelter because it did not have the facilities to house them.

Professor Jiang Hong, a Shanghai-based political commentator, said this was not an isolated case.

“If this could happen in affluent Guangdong, it is very possible that homeless or other disadvantaged groups are being treated in the same way in other parts of the nation,” Jiang said.

“It is unbelievable that China is failing to provide basic social care for needy groups. Our country should have done a much better job than this.”

Additional reporting by Mimi Lau