Image by Ruby and Peter Skitterians / Pixabay
By Anne Kader
Leaving the occupied East Turkistan (that China renamed Xinjiang) is impossible for Uyghurs now. The Chinese police confiscated their passports several years ago on the pretext of safeguarding them.
The Uyghurs that somehow managed to leave their homeland before 2017, when the mass internments began, now find themselves stranded in four corners of the world.
Turkey currently hosts the largest Uyghur diaspora community, standing at over 50,000. The number, however, is dwindling. Despite Uyghurs being a Turkic people, without proper status and documentation, many have found life too challenging in Turkey.
Egypt was another favorite destination for Uyghurs, especially those wanting to study in its Islamic institutions. However, after the crackdown in 2017, when, upon China's request, Egypt deported several Uyghur students to China. Their family members, that managed to avoid the sweeping arrests, relocated to safer countries.
Several years have passed since China essentially shut the borders of East Turkistan to Uyghurs in Exile. Vacation travels back home have become a distant memory. Many Uyghurs have also seen their Chinese passports expire. Chinese Embassies abroad have refused to renew Uyghur's travel documents or grant documents to children born abroad. Instead, China urges Uyghurs to come and return to China to renew their passports. No Uyghur in their right mind would risk such a trip.
Hence, we have an increasing number of Uyghurs without valid travel documents, stranded in countries, they do not feel at home. Mamy Uyghur families do not have passports for their offspring born in exile.
Those that have managed to book flights to a safe destination, find themselves with another challenge. One has to know with which countries China holds an extradition treaty. In the case of Idris Hasan, a young Uyghur father of three was stopped at the airport in Morocco during transit.
Beijing had accused Hasan of being "a terrorist" and requested Interpol to issue a red notice about him. Moroccan authorities arrested Hasan on July 19, 2021, yet Interpol’s red notice was withdrawn on August 2. Hasan, however, has not been released.
Uyghurs flying to safer destinations, need to pay close attention to what country they are transiting through. Nowadays, even some Western nations are not necessarily "safe" for Uyghurs to travel through. It all depends on the country's relations with China.
As residents, activists, journalists, and politicians in free countries must do our best to enable safe air travel and transits for Uyghurs. We should develop a system where the nationals of this persecuted group could obtain an alien's passport in an embassy in the country where they are stranded. Our leaders and immigration establishments need to wake up to these emergencies and prepare fast-track procedures for Uyghurs' asylum.
I am calling for safe countries to make exceptions with Uyghurs. We cannot wait for several more years. Uyghurs need our help now. There is no going back to their homeland right now, where China is committing genocide.