While the Chinese government’s foreign ministry spokespersons continue to reiterate that the government “attaches high importance to protecting the rights and interests of international students in China”, for some, the inflexibility is bringing them to breaking point.

“I’m supposed to graduate from Capital Medical University in May but all my belongings are still there,” said one student The PIE spoke with.

“[Then] they told me a few days ago that your graduation is still in danger… There is some exam they want me to take and they want me to be present there for that exam.

“If I can’t be there then they told me to write an application for them to delay my exam. I told them ‘okay I will delay my exam but can you give me the exact time when I can go back to China and take the exam?’ Then they said ‘it’s difficult to say’.”

The student said he was one of nine international students at his university who have only recently found out that they will not be able to sit the exams they have been preparing for over the last year if they are not physically in China.

“I want my graduation on time. I have my laptop, iPad, my documents, my clothes and everything [there],” he added.

“I’m ready to go back with any cost.”

Students due to graduate are also faced with the prospect of their managing their belongings they left behind in China. Due to the timing of the outbreak of the pandemic last year, many had been traveling home during the Spring Festival holidays.

Speaking with The PIE News, students described landlords and universities emptying their rooms. While some institutions have made efforts to help students repatriate their belongings, most have told them their friends must do it.

“We gave them details of our friends who will pack our things so they’ll do a check on them and allow them into our dorms,” recounted one student from Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu.

“They’ll give a short period of time to do the packing and they said all packing must be done in the one time and there’s not gonna be any more chances. And if we can’t pack up within the given time, they’ll dispose our belongings.

“We were hoping that at least until new international students came (which is not even decided yet, it could be next semester or next year) they could keep it but they’re in a rush. About this I’m not gonna blame the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or something because it is my school.”

With shipping costs unaffordable to many students, several said they still had important documents, electronics and other valuables in their dormitory.

“I left behind so many things there like my laptop, most of my clothes”

“I initially left China in late January last year thinking I’d be back after three weeks and I left behind so many things there like my laptop, most of my clothes,” explained another student.

“I also bought a microwave and fridge so I could not empty out my room easily as requested by my teacher so I chose to pay rent instead even though they have cut off electricity and there are no water expenses.

“Another thing is that my money that I received is stuck in China also. My bank account, ICBC, doesn’t have a magnetic strip so ATM withdrawals do not work abroad and for bank transfer I need to authorise that physically at the bank branch in China.”

Despite the difficulties, students are however continuing to campaign for greater support and transparency and an opening of the borders through social media, petitions and in-person protests.

International students enrolled with institutions in Japan and Australia – who have also found themselves in a similar situation to China’s international students – have also been working with their counterparts to draw attention to their plight.

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