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Foreign Students on Lockdown Live in Fear in Wuhan


For the foreign students on lockdown in China where a deadly flulike coronavirus has emerged, days are marked by fear, frustration and boredom.

“I wear a mask all the time,” said Redwan Mohamed Nur, an accounting student who told VOA he is one of 14 Somalis at Wuhan University and among 5,000 Africans studying in China.

“I [am] so scared that I didn’t dare to open the window because I’m afraid the wind would blow the virus in.”

Wuhan is home to dozens of universities and colleges. On Jan. 23, China closed off Wuhan, the center of a deadly outbreak of the coronavirus; 16 cities are locked down, more than 6,000 cases worldwide have been confirmed and at least 132 people are dead.

Stuck in his dorm, he said he has left only once, and that was to walk to where school authorities distribute food to foreign students every other day. Elsewhere in China, foreign students stay indoors, worried of exposure to the coronavirus.

Nur says the Somalis are a tight knit community. Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdi, one of four Somali students at China University of Geosciences, is studying petroleum engineering.

“You can get infected without showing the symptoms,” he said. “Therefore you are safe to be indoors.” But he has run out of food and is planning to go out to find an open supermarket.

Yassin Abdi Said, a Somali student living in Wuhan, told VOA the Somalis were remaining calm, but “the situation in Wuhan is very, very dangerous. The city is on lockdown, most shops are closed. Authorities are not allowing anyone to go out or come in.”

Indonesian students — Yuliannova Lestari Chaniago, Patmawaty Taibe and Gerard Ertandy — sent VOA a message from Wuhan’s Central China Normal University, saying they asked their government to evacuate them immediately to their home country.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian Air Force has said they have three airplanes to help evacuate Indonesians from Wuhan, but are waiting for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make a decision. Wuhan is home to 102 Indonesians, most of them students.

“We — Yuli, Eva and Gerald — are asking to be evacuated immediately from the city of Wuhan as this city is no longer healthy for us,” said Yuliannova Lestari Chaniago, 26, an international relations student.

An empty street is seen in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 25, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. Picture…
An empty street is seen in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 25, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 25, 2020.

Chaniago said she’d received a week’s allowance from Indonesia’s embassy in Beijing, but added that shops and drugstores are closed. She and her friends are surviving on homemade chicken soup.

“We understand that it’s hard for supplies to be sent in as the city is still in lockdown,” she said. “But we are puzzled as how to survive and protect ourselves from getting infected while at the same time being in the center of the outbreak, without enough food, water and medications.”

She said she and her friends are wearing two masks at once.

“There are masks handed out by the campus to survive, but they’re too thin,” she said. “It’s not the prescribed masks to prevent (the spread of) the virus.”

At the Hubei University of Technology in Wuhan, “They have closed the dormitory doors so that nobody can go out,” Yusuf Abdullah, a Bangladeshi student told VOA. “If you order the food in the canteen, they will cook it for you and then they’ll send. But you can’t go outside.”

Abdullah said the Bangladeshi Embassy had opened a chat group on the Chinese WeChat platform to share information and concerns. On the group chat, Abdullah told VOA that participants asked the embassy to “evacuate us as soon as possible.”

Sithu Htun is one of 57 students, and three parents, living in isolation in the international students’ dormitory on the Wuhan University campus. All the students all are scholars under the educational and cultural exchange program between China and Myanmar.

The environmental engineering graduate student at the Wuhan University of Technology said everyone was in good health but worried about the supply of food and medicines. He told VOA that the Myanmar Embassy keeps in touch with them about possible evacuation.

He said it would be great if developed countries offered assistance to evacuate them, as Japan and U.S. sent aircraft to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan. He said Burmese students are helping each other avoid feeling depressed about negative comments on social media that reflect a widespread distrust of China among Burmese.

“My parents are very worried about my safety because I am an only child, an only son,” said Keat Pocheang, 24, a Cambodian student at Wuhan University. “They video call me about 10 times a day.” He said he is “disappointed” that his government has not taken steps to evacuate its nationals.

Another Cambodian student, Tang Chivhour, 20, a native of Phnom Penh, is a student at Hubei University in Wuhan. He has lived in China for three years and speaks fluent Chinese. For the past week, Tang Chivhor said boredom has been the biggest challenge.

“I have a few Korean friends who are stuck here. So, I hang out with them, chatting and reading together.”

Shipon Hussein, a Bangladeshi doctoral student studying at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said university authorities are not allowing outside people to enter foreign students’ residential quarters.

“There has been talk about evacuation process,” he said. He added he knew some Bangladeshi students stranded in Wuhan “wanted to go back to Bangladesh.”

In China’s capital, Francisco Sithoi Jr., 22, a Mozambican student at the Beijing University of Technology, echoed what students trapped in Wuhan said, that it was becoming hard for him to get the food he needed, having to “go from supermarket to supermarket.”

Jannatun Nahar, a Bangla student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, echoed that the university officials were “taking care of us” and offering free meals and basic items like sanitizer. And while she, too, feels isolated, she says, she doesn’t want to go home.

“I don’t want to go back … because in my country, the population density is huge,” she said. “If the virus is in my body … if I come back to my country, it might effect my family, my relatives, my country. In my personal opinion, I want to stay in China, I don’t want to spread the virus in my country.”


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