Beijing security officials have been accused of “stealing” coats and quilts from homeless people in harsh winter cold as they were being moved from a bus terminus on Saturday.
Dozens of “unidentified” people, alleged to be public security and urban management officials, raided a bus station on Saturday afternoon to remove a group of homeless migrant workers, who were seen as a fire hazard and obstruction to traffic, according to the Legal Daily .
Witnesses in the area near Beijing’s Yongdingmen reported hearing several people scream “robbery!” as coats, quilts, shoes and even packs of instant noodles were confiscated.
One homeless woman claimed to have lived in the bus station for nearly two years along with a group of 30 to 40 others.
“This is not the first time they have come to steal our belongings,” she said. “Most of us will be sent back to our home villages, but for those who do not have family members, they will have to stay here in Beijing.”
Government officials denied robbing the vagrants and claimed it was a matter of urban management and safety as they were “cleaning up” discarded items left behind by those who had already left.
Officials also said most of the homeless living there had refused to enter government shelters.
Dongcheng district’s Urban Management Committee said discarded homeless people's belongings would obstruct traffic, pose a fire hazard and “affect the lives of ordinary people around the area”.
Yu Jianrong, an academic at the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), who recently organised a relief programme for homeless people, demanded an explanation from the government on microblogging site Sina Weibo.
“If you can’t provide a suitable place for them to live, please just let them live there in peace!” Yu posted on his account .
Provincial and county level officials have been accused on several occasions of unjustly clearing areas where vagrants gather to improve the appearance of cities and hide urban poverty.
The appearance of a city and the cleanliness of the environment can not be superior to the rights of a citizen,” said CASS’ Centre for Environment and Development deputy secretary-general Gong Yi, in an interview with the Legal Daily.
“The Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is the department in charge of social assistance and welfare, has an obligation to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the homeless community,” he added.