Uyghurs Aren’t Safe From China Even Outside Xinjiang

Apr 8, 2021 by

Experts: China's Uighur population control meets criteria for genocide

Leaving Xinjiang has not meant they are free of China’s grasp.

On a summer afternoon nearly four years ago, Maryam Muhammet thought her family’s long journey to freedom was almost complete. The Uyghur woman had arrived in Istanbul from Egypt weeks prior with her two sons, a toddler and an infant, after fleeing the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Her husband had not yet joined the family in Turkey. The couple had heard from others in their community that Egyptian immigration officials—ostensibly acting at the behest of the Chinese government—were hassling Uyghur men as they left, so they decided he would come later, on his own.

That afternoon, he sent Muhammet a WhatsApp message to say he was en route to the port and would travel by ship to Turkey. Soon, they would be together. But the tone of his updates quickly changed. He had encountered problems, and officials were taking him away. He loved her, he wrote. His last message came through at 6:06 p.m. “I will not lose faith in God,” he texted. He never made it to Istanbul.

Muhammet describes the following days—alone, in a strange new city—as the darkest period of her life. Previously in regular contact with her husband, she initially hoped his silence somehow meant he was on his way. But days turned into a week, then a week into two. For a while, she did little beyond clutching her boys, crying over her uncertain future. She assumed that the worst had happened, that her husband was now in the hands of the Chinese authorities. Her mother-in-law would later confirm her suspicions.“Before my husband’s detention, I lived in one world. After my husband’s detention, I’ve existed in another universe,” Muhammet told me. “I was once lucky and happy. Now, I’ve entered darkness and I cannot see my way forward.”

In recent years, Beijing has mounted a crackdown in Xinjiang against the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, subjecting its people to mass detention and unending surveillance in a merciless act of collective punishment. Roughly 1 million Uyghurs have been rounded up for “crimes” that include praying, wearing a headscarf, and having relatives overseas, human-rights groups say. The United States, as well as the Canadian and Dutch parliaments, have labeled the repression a genocide.

The offensive has triggered an exodus of Uyghurs, according to the World Uyghur Congress, and exiles like Muhammet have become some of the most important sources providing the world with a picture of what’s happening in Xinjiang.

Yet even when Uyghurs are free of China’s territory, they do not feel safe from its reach. Those who have left Xinjiang face imprisonment if they return home and persistent insecurity abroad. Some have been hounded and threatened with deportation by immigration officials of countries seeking to improve ties with Beijing.Women—many of whom escape separately from their husbands—face particular difficulties when, as is often the case, their partners are caught fleeing. Even the most educated and highly skilled of these women, having grown up in a patriarchal society, are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar position, becoming lonely migrants in new countries and tasked with heading households they had assumed would include husbands, fathers, uncles, and brothers. Muhammet, for example, had studied law in China and Arabic in Egypt. She had hoped to stay abroad for graduate school but, now a de facto single mother, has suspended those plans and instead tutors elementary-school students to pay the bills.

Her story is far from unique. I spoke with half a dozen Uyghur women who had left Xinjiang, and corroborated their accounts with travel and asylum documents, as well as posts on social media. Despite their different backgrounds and income and education levels, their stories of life in Xinjiang and their experiences abroad follow a widely documented pattern of abuse and fear, say analysts who closely follow China’s detention system. Their hardships outside China often get overlooked, in part because these exiles draw little attention to their troubles when they see their relatives back home suffering so much more. But the Uyghur crackdown needs to be understood as “a multifaceted crisis,” Zumretay Arkin, an advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, told me. “International attention has been on the camps for so long that so many other aspects of this crisis have been ignored.”

Source: Uyghurs Aren’t Safe From China Even Outside Xinjiang – The Atlantic

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