Canadians in China frustrated with government's lack of communication
TORONTO -- Many Canadians in China are unhappy with the government’s lack of communication with its citizens as the coronavirus death toll rises to 132 and more than 6,000 others are infected in China and abroad.
In a WeChat group for Canadian expatriates, users expressed frustration on Wednesday at being unable to reach the embassy or consulate in recent days, particularly as other countries began evacuations of its citizens.
“I just feel that the government has left the Canadians that are not only in China but Hubei out to dry. No words from the consulates or the embassy,” Terry Collinge, a long time ESL teacher in Wuhan, told CTV News. He said because of the Lunar New Year holiday, there has been no response from consulates over the past several days.
Jan. 27 and 28 are listed as statutory holidays for the Canadian Embassy and consulates in China.
“I hear what the French, British, Americans and even the Japanese are doing for their citizens and still nothing from Canada,” Collinge added. “I just feel that our government is failing us in this matter.”
Canadians outside of Canada are not tracked by the government, and are asked to voluntarily make their location known through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.
“I’ve registered 3 days ago. Still nothing,” Isabelle Mathieu told the by-invitation-only WeChat group. “That’s all I got,” she wrote, posting to the group a “thank you for registering” form letter she received.
Mathieu, who is from Saint-Georges de Beauce near Quebec City, has been in China since the end of November. She resides in Chongqing, a stand-alone municipality of more than 30 million people just west of Hubei province.
“Even if I wanted to leave I can’t. The visa centre (has) my passport for the residence permit application.”
One user shared an email she received on Jan. 25, which advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the province of Hubei. “I haven’t heard from them ever since,” she said.
“Canada has to get with it. This is downright shameful,” another user posted.
A Canadian based in Sichuan province tried to connect with the Chongqing consulate during the chat Wednesday and gave up when he could not get through, he said. When he called again later, the number went directly to an “emergency helpline” where he was able to connect with someone. When he asked specifically about repatriation flights, he was told that “they are looking at all options” and that it would be “communicated in the next couple of days.”
Patterson Wu, who arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 13, told CTV News he called the embassy in Beijing on Jan. 27 to ask which hospital he should go to if he developed symptoms. He was transferred to the Shanghai consulate, which directed him to an online post in Chinese that listed contact information for hospitals in Wuhan. But Wu said hospitals typically require Chinese identification cards and the consulate could not tell him whether the hospitals would take patients without them. Hospitals require passports for those who do not have Chinese identity cards.
“Then I asked about (evacuation) and they said there were no plans. I also tried the 24/7 emergency line posted but they were not able to give any advice outside of following local authorities,” Wu said.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne had confirmed that 126 Canadians were seeking the government's help to leave the country - about half of the 250 Canadians in Hubei province who self-registered.
But on the ground in China, Canadians felt disconnected.
“I am just complaining about their unprofessional lack of communication with us. They have never even made an attempt to form a sense of community with us (unlike other embassies),” said the group's admin, who did not wish to be named. Her passport is also at a visa centre.
The Costa Rican embassy stays connected to its citizens in China via a WeChat Group and the Colombian government created a support group for its citizens as well, she noted as an example.
“South Africa has contacted their citizens in Wuhan, according to my (South African) friend in Wuhan. Even Iraq has done something.” She said this was one of their biggest complaints and why they started their own Canadians in China WeChat groups. This group has more than 60 members.
“In short, I think we all want to feel like if sh*t hits the fan the Canadian government is on top of it for us,” said Samantha, a Canadian in Chongqing, who did not wish to use her last name. “Right now it seems they are dilly-dallying...on really addressing the issue for their citizens, especially those in Hubei.”
For some, however, the embassy’s response does not come as a surprise. Anna-Simone Sorial, who is currently in Hainan, China, was in Africa five years ago and tried to seek assistance from the Canadian embassy during an emergency, but was unable to get help. “It’s not the first time that the Canadian Embassy has failed its Canadians when they leave Canada,” she said.
Some users also noted the lack of updates, aside from the travel advisory warning, on the various government websites such as Global Affairsand Canada in China. The embassy website asks visitors to “connect with us on Twitter”, but Twitter is blocked in China and inaccessible without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection.
“It’d just be nice to have an official update online,” one Canadian wrote.
And many in the chat group are not necessarily looking to evacuate, but simply expect better communication between the government and its citizens.
“Personally I am planning on staying as long as I can. But would still like to hear from them,” said Collinge, who is originally from Sudbury.
Others, like Kai Wood, an international AP high school foreign language teacher and editor in Chongqing, have lived in China for years.
“It’s tough for me. My wife is Chinese from Chongqing, her whole family is here. She doesn’t want to go, so if I left I go alone. I would prefer to stay if I can, I’ve made my life here,” said Wood.