As China continues to persecute Uyghur Muslims by locking them inside the “re-education” camps, forcing them to quit Islam in a bid to deradicalise them, the Uyghurs are now fleeing their homeland Xinjiang province, an autonomous territory in northwest China, to seek refuge in Islamic countries in China.
At war with the Uyghurs, China has imprisoned more than a million Uyghurs in detention camps. Beijing has demolished mosques, schools, and cemeteries and separated young children from parents, all to erase the Uyghur culture. There are allegations that women are systematically raped and abused in the so-called “re-education” camps.
The United States of America has accused China of persecuting Uyghurs, terming their atrocities as a “genocide”. Meanwhile, China has imposed more restrictions in Xinjiang, and access to the camps themselves is non-existent. However, amidst all the allegations and denials, the Uyghur Muslims have been at the centre of persecution for decades now and are gradually moving out of their homeland to distant Islamic nations.
Islamic countries prefer Chinese money over Uyghur Muslims
Many Islamic nations accepted Uyghurs initially, expressed their solidarity, and some even condemned China for carrying out atrocities against its Muslim brethren in Xinjiang. Much of the Islamic world become aware of the detention of more than millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps in Xinjiang. However, years later, most of the self-proclaimed vanguards of the Muslim world seems to have dumped the Uyghurs, as they have completely submitted to China’s will.
The Islamic world, which has surrendered itself to the Chinese whims, has maintained a tight lip against China. With no courage to speak against China, the Islamic countries are now throwing the Uyghurs under the bus in exchange for Chinese money. Pakistan and Turkey, which claims to champion the cause of Islam, have failed Uyghurs by not only remaining silent on Chinese belligerence against the Uyghurs but also joined Beijing to perpetrate more terror on them.
Uyghur Muslims, who had escaped Chinese atrocities and sought refuge in these countries hoping that they would be rescued, have been backstabbed by their own. Islamic countries like Pakistan, Turkey, who are now in bed with China, have reportedly turned their back on Uyghurs. Egypt is not far away from these countries either.
Pakistan, a rental state of the Communist Party of China, is under huge pressure due to its relationship with China to act on the Uyghurs who sought refugee in different cities of Pakistan. It is worth mentioning that China is sponsoring the much-hyped CPEC, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 billion economic project consisting of multiple loans to be used for infrastructure, power plants, telecommunications, and schools. Even though Pakistan proclaims it to be a Muslim nation, it has remained silent on the Chinese atrocities against Uyghur Muslims owing to its over-dependence on China.
Pakistan has time and again expressed its reluctance to speak on the Uyghur issue or China’s continuing persecution in the Xinjiang region, fearing Chinese backlash. In 2019, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that he was not aware of the Uyghurs’ situation in China. In the same interview, he had described China as a “breath of fresh air” for Pakistan.
To keep China happy, the Pakistani government will do anything China orders them to do, and Uyghurs are suffering so much because of CPEC. The CPEC project and Pakistan’s growing dependence on China have now led Uyghurs to believe that they are not safe in Pakistan.
Pakistani authorities have begun to trace Uyghurs in the country and will be removed from Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities have started collecting biometric data on all Uyghurs living in Pakistan. They have threatened to send them back to China, where their families will be separated and sent to the camps.
“If I don’t help them, who will? I have helped many Uyghur families resolve their issues, and God willing, I will keep doing this in the future, ” Umer Mohammed Khan, an Uyghur activist, said. Umer Mohammed Khan, a school teacher turned activist, runs an underground railroad allowing Uyghurs to escape China. In the past decade, he has helped dozens of families to flee the persecution.
China sees Uyghur immigrants in Pakistan as ‘terrorists’
Lijian Zhao, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, considers Khan and other Uyghurs in Pakistan as ‘terrorists’. China believes that these Uyghur Muslims are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group responsible for several violent attacks inside China as the 2005 attack in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang region.
“The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a terrorist organisation recognised by the UN security council. Their main agenda is to separate Xinjiang from China. We are trying to get the support of other countries to fight this group. I think ETIM’s attempt to separate China, to create trouble for China, is doomed to failure, Zhao, who is the Director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department in Beijing, said.
The Pakistani police have also broken into Khan’s Uyghur language school in Islamabad and destroyed thousands of dollars worth of computers, textbooks, and other teaching material. “I am no terrorist, but yes, China says I am a terrorist. I have done nothing wrong. I am merely trying to help educate people. Because China fears us, they suppress us,” said Khan.
Khan says that they were teaching around 100 children at the school who were learning the Uyghur language. There is no existence without your mother tongue and culture, and we are facing an existential crisis, and we want to reclaim our identity, says Khan.
A few months later, the police again broke into Khan’s residence. They had detained his elderly father as they could not find Khan. The Pakistani police had attacked Khan’s father, who died shortly after facing trauma. Since this incident, Khan said he has been arrested and beaten numerous times by Pakistani authorities.
“My family members came to me and begged me to stop this work. But I cannot. Helping people is my life’s calling and I must continue,” says Khan.
Turkey deports Uyghur back to Xinjiang
Pakistan is not the only country to silently comply with China’s wishes. In 1952, the then Turkish government offered asylum to Uyghurs fleeing Xinjiang province after China was taken over by the Communist government. Some Uyghur Muslims were offered temporary or permanent residency in Turkey.
However, Turkey, which has been showing all its machismo against the smaller countries in the Middle East, seems to have no courage to raise its voice against the persecution of Uighurs as they depend on China for investment and loans.
In 2009, Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of the firsts to call out the Chinese repression of Uyghurs as a “genocide”, prompting an angry response from Beijing. Ten years later, the increasing hostilities with the West has pushed the authoritarian Turkish leader to look up Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping for the global support. Effectively, the geopolitical game has brought a major shift to Ankara’s policy towards Uyghurs and China.
It is worth mentioning that Turkey houses more than 35,000 Uyghurs in its different city. Uyghurs, who share Turkic descent, have found safe haven in Turkish cities and have established themselves for many years. The sudden change in the relationship between China and Turkey has now put Uyghurs living in Turkish cities at risk as it has become much harder for them to get resident permits or citizenship.
It has become challenging for Uyghurs to live in Turkey as they fear they could be deported back to Xinjiang at any moment. To aggravate their fear, China also refused to renew their passports. The Turkish government has made a lacklustre promise to allow them to reside in Turkey without any passport restrictions. However, at the same time, it is also raiding Uyghur homes, arresting hundreds of people, and coordinating deportations with Beijing.
One of the major reasons for this is Turkey’s apparent shift away from its NATO allies and towards Russia and China. The worrisome aspect is that China recently ratified an extradition agreement with Turkey, to what it refers to as a “counterterrorism partnership”. While Uyghurs had no problems in Turkey until three or four years ago, Ankara’s security concerns and stronger ties with Beijing have reversed that trend, leaving them in a precarious situation.
Egypt deports, Saudi and Islamic world maintain silence
Like Turkey, Egypt has detained and deported Uighurs back to China. Since 2017, at least 200 Uyghurs have rounded up in the raids, at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party, and have been sent back to China.
Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the Islamic world, have not uttered a word about the Uyghurs too. In fact, the relationship between Beijing and Riyadh has only strengthened in the last few years. China and Saudi Arabia have signed deals worth billions, and Chinese money has turned Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman into an ally of China.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – the self-proclaimed protector of the interests of the Muslim world, too has not found any courage to confront China on the state-sponsored genocide of Uyghur Muslims. The fifty-seven member states of the OIC have also remained silent on the issue.
The message seems to be clear – Islamic nations have chosen China’s dirty money over persecuted Uyghur Muslims. The interests of the so-called protectors of the Muslim simply lies with Chinese money and not for their ‘Ummah’.