British teacher 'abandoned' in China says he faces abuse and hostility amid Covid-19 crisis

11 June 2020, 17:24

Liam has been living in China since September
Liam has been living in China since September. Picture: Facebook

By Maddie Goodfellow

A British man who has been stuck in China for three months has told how he has been on the receiving end of abuse as a foreigner and feels "abandoned" by the government.

Liam Parradine, 26, told LBC News he is "worried he will never come home" after his two repatriation flights to the UK were cancelled.

Mr Parradine left the UK in September to teach English in the Chinese province of Bozhou and has been trying to get back to the UK since April after China barred all foreign visitors at the end of March.

He said he was desperate to come home because he has hardly been outside in 18 weeks and was on the receiving end of abuse whenever he did venture out.

According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese authorities discovered the first Covid-19 case in the country in November, two months after he arrived.

Liam said that two repatriation flights to get him back the the UK have been cancelled, and he was instead given a living allowance of around £300 to live on each month.

"Since then, all of the flights have been cancelled, and even if they were not I am not allowed to leave the city as all trains have been cancelled to try and control the spread," he explained.

"It feels like there's not much I can do except wait it out."

In March, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced a £75 million deal with British airlines to help those still stranded around the world.

He pledged to “continue with this unprecedented effort” until all Brits abroad are safely home.

However, Liam said that is is "upsetting" to see "planes being sent out to countries across the world" but not China.

He said: "I've received no phone calls, emails or any communication for what the government is planning to do with UK citizens in China. It's frustrating."

"The UK government say they have contacted every British citizen living abroad at the moment, but the only way I've had any contact is by phoning the embassy and the two other people in my city who are English have also had no phone calls, no emails.

"I've always had faith in the British government, that if you're abroad and something goes wrong you can phone the embassy or the government and you will get the help you want from your country. But right now it feels like I've been abandoned.

Liam explained: "I contacted the embassy in Beijing to find out what was happening and they basically just said sit tight and just wait.

"A few weeks later, after about nine or ten of being in lockdown I phoned again because it was such a tough situation being indoors on my own with nothing to do and no one to see.

"It was so mentally frustrating, there was just nothing I could do.

"I was booked onto one flight which got cancelled. I was then booked on another, but that was cancelled as well and I've heard nothing since.

"At the moment I have a possible flight out of Hong Kong, but it hasn't been confirmed if I can even enter the country at that time."

It comes despite the company he works for "cancelling" his work visa, meaning he has to change to a 30-day visa or risk living in China illegally.

He explained: "However, each time I speak to the company they change the story and say it hasn't been cancelled yet or I have to go ASAP to get a 30-day visa.

"One minute I'm in an illegal situation and the next it's all okay and can change my visa as soon as possible.

He said that when he brought up his concerns to the embassy "even they had no idea what was happening with the visa situation."

Signs are up banning foreigners from certain areas, such as sports grounds
Signs are up banning foreigners from certain areas, such as sports grounds. Picture: Handout

Liam also explained that he has faced abuse and hostility and there has been a noticeable change in behaviour towards him in China.

"I have had a lot more harassment form police, security and the public. It's not a nice experience," he said.

"Before coronavirus, when I was walking to work children would say hello, their parents would say hello. Now, when I'm walking around or even getting into a lift, parents pull their children to one side to get them away from me."

There have been reports of anti-immigrant sentiment growing in China.

The Chinese authorities have said that they recognise the reports of racism as “reasonable concerns”, though migrants have reported that they continue to feel unsafe.

Liam said the sentiment is now spreading towards all non-Chinese residents.

"As you're walking down the street you hear people shouting 'Laowai', the Chinese word for foreigner. They start abusing you verbally. I've been walking on the street before and people spit at me for being a foreigner," he explained.

Liam showed images that are commonplace on social media in China, which he believes is a source of the hostility.

"It's mainly due to propaganda that has been released nine cartoon images of foreigners and what they do," he said.

"The images show people who came here to escape Covid-19 but now they are causing trouble."

The first image he shows is a cartoon released saying foreigners come to "steal form the women and entice them into sex."

The second is a poster from a sports field which discusses when it opens and says only Chinese people allowed to use the pitch.

"No foreigners allowed," it reads.

A cartoon posted to Chinese social media site Weibo attacking foreigners
A cartoon posted to Chinese social media site Weibo attacking foreigners. Picture: Twitter

"If I'm walking down he street I have to wear a mask, because it's the law in China that foreigners must wear a face mask at all times," said Liam.

"If there are locals that see me as a foreigner and they don't have their mask on the quickly put it on or walk in the opposite direction and deliberately try to avoid me.

"Taxi drivers have been told if they pick up any foreigners they get a fine."

He continued: "Trying to go into shops at the peak was hard, I had to write down all of my details, and security will not let me into any shops other than the supermarkets, security have barred me from clothes shops.

"It's not nice, it's hard to explain, but it's a very hostile environment to be in."

"It's got to the point where I am just thinking I won't ever be coming home, but or my own mental wellbeing I have to keep thinking I might come back.

"But deep down there is that fear that I'm just stuck."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We know this is a difficult time for many British travellers abroad and our staff are working tirelessly to bring people home and support others who remain abroad.

"The British Embassy in Beijing has been in regular contact with Mr Parradine, as well as other British travellers in the region, to provide support and offer advice about their options to return to the UK.

“We have now brought home over 34,000 people on 165 charter flights organised by the Foreign Office from 32 countries and territories, including China.”