The Nightmare of Separating Flesh and Blood: Uyghur Families Unable to Reunite Parents and Children Under Repression

About four years ago, some Uyghurs who were Parents and studying or working abroad began to experience one nightmare after another. Many had left at least one child in the care of their families back Home in the XUAR, but little did they know at the Time that China was about to impose an unprecedented crackdown on the community in Xinjiang, with the resulting terrible impact on the lives of thousands of parents like them.

For decades, many Uyghurs have experienced systematic ethnic and religious discrimination in Xinjiang. Since 2014, Xinjiang has seen a major expansion of its police force and the imposition of blanket surveillance as part of the authorities’ publicly announced “People’s War on Terrorism” and campaign against This is part of the authorities’ publicly announced “People’s War on Terrorism” and their campaign against “religious extremism. Surveillance and social control measures began to expand rapidly in 2016, and in 2017, the situation became increasingly difficult for local Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. Since then, an estimated one million or more people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang’s “educational conversion centers” or “vocational training centers” and subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment, including political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation. This oppressive mass detention and systematic repression has made it impossible for Uyghurs who are parents to return to China to care for their children, and almost impossible for their children to leave China to reunite with them abroad.

Many parents initially thought the crackdown was a temporary measure and that they would soon be able to return home to see their children. But friends and relatives warned that they would almost certainly be placed in internment camps upon their return to China. The existence of these camps and the possibility that any member of the Muslim community could be arbitrarily detained has become a fact of Life. Some were initially able to correspond with their children, but when relatives caring for them were imprisoned or jailed, they could not be reached. Slowly and irrevocably, these parents, who live abroad, go into exile.

Recently, Amnesty International spoke in depth with six parents separated from their children, living in Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Their testimonies only scratch the surface of the experiences of those Uighur families, revealing how much they long to be reunited with their children trapped in China.

Nearly Reunited: Four Teenagers on a Dangerous Journey

Mihriban Kader and her husband, Ablikim Memtinin, from Kashgar, fled to Italy in 2016 after being repeatedly harassed by police and asked to surrender their passports to the local police station.

After they left, Mirzeban’s parents helped take care of the pair’s four children, but soon after began to be harassed by police. Eventually, Mijeban’s mother was taken to a detention camp, while the father was interrogated for several days and later hospitalized for months.

Both children became unattended. After my parents’ accident, other relatives were afraid to take care of my children, fearing that they too would be sent to a detention camp,” Mirzeban told Amnesty International. “

In November 2019, Mirzeban and Ablikom were granted permission by the Italian government to bring their four children to the region, where they are expected to be reunited. Before that, however, in June 2020, the four children, aged 12, 14, 15 and 16, needed to embark on a grueling journey across 5,000 kilometers from Kashgar, on China’s border with Pakistan, to the eastern coastal city of Shanghai to apply for visas to Italy.

On the way, they were caught in several dangerous situations and faced enormous challenges. According to Chinese regulations, children cannot purchase train or airplane tickets as well as travel alone. Due to discriminatory policies and local government orders, hotels often refused to accommodate Uyghurs due to lack of rooms. Despite the adversity they faced, the children persevered and managed to reach Shanghai.

When the children finally reached the gates of the Italian consulate with valid passports in hand, it seemed as if their parents were behind the gates in front of them and they were about to be able to hug each other.

However, their excitement turned to fear in an instant when they were denied access to the consulate. They were later told that only the Italian Embassy in Beijing could issue Family reunification visas, but due to the strict city closure in Beijing in June 2020, people would not be able to travel there at all. Heartbroken, the children waited outside the consulate, hoping someone would come out to help them. Not only did the children get no help, but a Chinese guard approached them and threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave.

Instead of giving up out of desperation, the children sought assistance from several travel agencies to apply for visas to Italy. On June 24, according to their parents, the four children were taken by police from a hotel in Shanghai and brought back to an orphanage and boarding school in Kashgar. They almost made it, and had everything that happened at the consulate that day gone in the opposite direction, perhaps instead of languishing in the Chinese orphanage system, they would now be able to reminisce with their parents about the adventure they had just experienced. For now, Mirzeban and Ablikom fear they may have lost their children forever.

Separated from their daughters: 1594 days of unfinished continuity

Yomair Emdu (Omer Faruh) owns a bookstore in Istanbul, and in November 2016, while he was in Saudi Arabia, his wife, Buyanm Ablikmti (Meryem Faruh), called him one night to tell him that the local police had ordered them to surrender their passports. Concerned, Yomair asked Meryem not to surrender her passport to the police and to immediately buy airline tickets for her and her two older daughters, who already had passports and whose other two, ages 5 and 6, did not yet have travel documents. Considering the massive confiscation of passports in Xinjiang at the time, the couple felt they had no choice but to leave the younger two children in the care of Buyer Yanmu’s parents at their home in Korla, central Xinjiang.

Yomair soon lost contact with his parents, and in October 2017, he learned from a friend that his parents-in-law had been taken to a detention camp.

Yomair told Amnesty International, “I am one of thousands of Uyghurs whose families have been torn apart …… For the past 1,594 days, we have not heard from our daughters. My wife and I try to hide our grief from the other children who are here with us, so we only cry at night. “

I am willing to sacrifice everything for my daughters and I am willing to sacrifice my life as long as I know my daughters will be released, ” he said with a shaky voice. “

Yomair and his family, including all of his children, were granted Turkish citizenship in June 2020. Since then, he has been seeking the help of Turkish authorities to bring his two young daughters out of China. Although the Turkish Embassy in Beijing informed Yomair that it had initiated the process in August 2020 and sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese government in October 2020, they have so far been unable to bring the daughters to Turkey.

“I have something to say to humanity. Please put yourself in our shoes and imagine what we are going through and speak up for us. “

Tell me my son is alive and safe and healthy

Rizwangul was working as a saleswoman in Dubai in 2014 when her 3-year-old son visited her for nearly six months, accompanied by her cousin Muhammed. Rizwangul had planned for her son to stay with her for a long time, but her parents suggested he stay in China until he was school age so Rizwangul could focus on her career. She agreed, thinking she would be settled in Dubai by then and could prepare him for school.

Whenever I return to my hometown in Xinjiang on vacation, I spend a month with my son,” Zhezvanguly told Amnesty International. At that time, I felt very happy. When he came to visit me in Dubai, it was the best time of my life. “

Zhezvanguli’s cousin Muhaimaiti stayed in Dubai to work. When his mother fell ill in March 2017, he returned to Xinjiang. Just two months later, just as Zhezvanguli was preparing to return to China as planned, her sister and friends told her it was not safe to return to China.

Little did she know how much worse the situation would become.

When Rizvanguly asked her sister about Mukhaimati, she learned that he had gone to “school” a week after returning to Xinjiang. Rizvanguly understood that this meant that Mukhaimati had been sent to an “educational conversion center.

Then in September, when her sister, who had been caring for her son, told her never to call them again for safety reasons, Rizvanguly’s world went black. Since then, Rizwan Guli has been unable to contact her son, her sister or her friends in Xinjiang. She is currently studying Dutch in the Netherlands.

“It’s hard for others to understand how I feel. ” she told Amnesty International, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I want to know that he is alive and safe and healthy, and that’s the only thing that keeps me going. “

If I could talk to him now, I would say to him, ‘Forgive me, I brought you into this world, but I couldn’t take care of you; I didn’t do my duty as a mother.’ “

She continued, “Imagine not being able to call your family and not knowing for years if your child, parent or relative is still alive. Imagine that not only you, but millions of (Uyghur) people are separated from their families. We never thought this would happen to us, but it does. Please help us. “

To go back or not to go back?

Dilnur, originally from Kashgar, currently lives in Canada with his 11-year-old daughter and studies English. She and her daughter left China for Turkey in 2016 due to frequent and severe harassment by local police, repeated house searches and orders to take off their hijab.

It took Dilnur about a year to get Xinjiang authorities to issue passports to her two daughters, ages 11 and 9, but police denied her 7-year-old son’s application for a passport. When Dilnur asked why, the local police told her that she would not return to China if they issued passports to her sons. Because her youngest daughter had allergies that prevented her from leaving the country, Dilnur had to leave her and her son in the care of her parents. A few months after Dilinul left China, she learned from her family that her youngest daughter’s passport had been confiscated by the police.

In early 2017, Dilinul encountered one of the biggest problems of her life. Her sister called to tell her, “You have to come back. “Their father had been caring for her two children and had been subjected to lengthy weekly interrogations. When Dilinul choked up and asked why, her sister replied, “Because the government wants you to come back. The safety of our family depends on you. If you don’t come back immediately, our whole family and even our relatives will be punished and sent to internment camps. “

Upon hearing these words, Dilinul felt the world fall apart in a matter of minutes. The safety of her loved ones depended entirely on her return to China, and she felt extreme helplessness and pain because she knew that if she returned to China, she would be separated from her children and taken to an internment camp.

Dilnur thought hard about what to do and could not sleep for a week. Then she received a message from her father from a relative telling her that she should focus on finishing school. Soon after, another message came from her father, “Dilinul must not return. “

Dilinul believed her father knew what would happen once she returned, so he decided to protect her from potential harm. In addition, she believes her family and relatives are being harassed simply for being Uyghurs, and that authorities will not let them go free even if she returns.

Since April 2017, Dilinul has been unable to contact any of her family, let alone know what has happened to her two children in Xinjiang. She has exhausted all possible means, but has failed to get what she wants. “I made such a big effort to save my children, but I didn’t succeed. I used to have the same nightmare every night for a week, dreaming that the children were crying for me and then their teacher said, ‘Your mother has left you.’ “Dilinul was terrified by these thoughts and became afraid to sleep.

Dilinul plans to seek help from the Canadian government to bring her children over once she is granted permanent residency. While living in Turkey, she wrote several letters seeking help from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior and the Presidency, but still has not received any response. In an interview with Amnesty International, she also called on the world to take action, saying, “I don’t know what is happening to my children and my family. How could this happen? Please do everything you can to help us get through this. I want to ask everyone to guard their humanity, to speak up for us, to stand with us and not let this tragedy continue to happen to our children. “

“There are cadres in the family”

Mamutjan, who was born and raised in Kashgar and now lives in Australia, was reunited with his wife Muherrem and their still-infant daughter in 2012 while he was studying for his PhD in social sciences in Malaysia, after waiting for more than two years to receive his passport.

Mamuti still cherishes their time together: “I was so excited when Muayjemu and our daughter came to Kuala Lumpur for the first time …… It was the happiest and most memorable time of my life. “

This joyful time lasted for almost three years, but ended when the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur refused to reissue Muaijemu’s passport to her in late 2015 after she lost it. Subsequently, she was forced to return to China with her then 5-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son to apply for a renewal of her passport. At the time, they thought it was a routine procedure, not perceiving that China was about to launch a massive crackdown on Uighurs in 2017 and that this years-long painful separation was about to begin.

Muaijemu and his two children ended up trapped in Kashgar. Mamuti maintained regular contact with his wife and children until the day before Muaijemu was taken to an internment camp in April 2017. The children were left in the care of their grandparents when Muaijemu was taken away. Soon after, Mamouti’s parents asked him not to contact them again. Many of his friends and relatives “deleted” him from their communication apps.

In May 2019, Mamuti saw a video of his son on a relative’s social media account, where he was excitedly exclaiming, “My mom has graduated! ” Then he finally felt a little more at ease, as he believed it clearly meant she had been released from the detention camp.

Mamouti decided to take a chance and called his parents in August 2019. He thought the video reflected an improvement in his family’s plight.

When his mother picked up the phone, he felt such excitement. “I just wanted to say Happy Eid, it’s been a long time since I talked to you,” Mamouti said. However, his mother replied in a trembling voice, “There are cadres at home,” and then hung up the phone. Thereafter, he kept calling, but always failed to get through. Mamouti believes that his parents, fearing that contacting people overseas might lead to their detention or other punishment, deliberately disconnected him to avoid contact with him so that he would not call again.

Over the past year, Mamouti has continued to receive fragmentary messages from his friends, written in coded language, indicating that Muaygaym is still in custody. One friend told him that his wife was “five years old,” which Mamouti thought might mean she was sentenced to five years in prison. Another friend said that Muaygaym had been sent to a “hospital,” which could be the Uighurs’ code word for a detention camp or prison.

Mamouti’s close friends visited his hometown to learn more about his family’s condition. Although Mamouti was unable to contact his family and relatives, he believes his son may be living with his mother-in-law and his daughter with his own parents, according to two videos sent by close friends. We shouldn’t have to suffer so much at all,” he said. It’s like losing four or five years of your life because you’re Uighur or different from most Chinese people. “

Mamouti called on the Chinese government to end its heavy-handed policy toward Xinjiang: “If the Chinese authorities have any humanity left, they should stop treating people this way and reunite them with their families. It is not that we have committed any crime. I hope they realize how cruel this brutality against the people is …… It is a torturous and painful injustice, and no other words can accurately describe it. “He has contacted the Home Office in his current country, Australia, but they say they cannot help him because he is not a permanent resident.

A string of terrible news

In March 2017, Meripet Metniyaz and her husband, Turghun Memet, traveled from Xinjiang to Turkey for the purpose of caring for Buyripati’s ailing father in Istanbul. Beripatti originally worked as an ultrasonographer in the southwestern Xinjiang city of Hotan, while Turghun was a businessman who invested in real estate and gemstones in Xinjiang. They left the country on visas valid for one month, thinking they would be back in China soon. While they were away, Torikhon’s mother in Urumqi took care of their four children, ages 6, 8, 9 and 11.

During the time the couple was helping Buyipati’s father recover, there was worrying news from the family. The news said that Uighurs who had previously visited Turkey were being detained and sent to internment camps. They decided to postpone their return to China.

We thought that if we waited patiently for a few months until the situation in Urumqi improved, we would be able to go back,” explained Buyilpati. We waited, but the situation became worse. Not only those who left the country, but even those who prayed and grew beards were arrested. We heard many stories about the prisons back home and were very afraid to go back. “

In late 2017, Torikhon found out that his mother and children were forced to move from Urumqi to Hotan, some 1,500 kilometers (930 nautical miles) away, where his mother’s official household registration is located. Misfortune followed when Torihun learned from his sister Amina that their mother had been sent to a detention camp shortly after her return to Hotan. Within five days of their return to Hotan, their children were sent to the Love Nursery, which was actually an orphanage.

It was difficult for Buyilpati to accept the news. “My mental health took a hit after I lost contact with my children (and) my children,” she said. “She often had Nightmares in the middle of the night and woke up crying. “There is an old saying, ‘A child is the heart, a child is life.’ I felt like I had lost my heart and lost my life. “She cried bitterly and continued, “The meaning of my existence is my children. My thoughts are always on their well-being, their health and how they are being treated. “

Over the next few months, Torihon’s sister continued to inform him about her children in text messages written in coded language. At first, Amina was allowed to visit the children once a week. After a few weeks, she was no longer allowed to visit the children. in June 2018, Torihun suddenly could not even contact Amina.

A few months later, his sister-in-law told him that Amina had been taken into police custody and killed during interrogation. Torikhon and Buyipati were shocked and extremely saddened. Soon after, they found out that their sister-in-law had been sent to a detention camp in late 2018. They could no longer find anyone to give them information about their child.

Buyripati and Torikhon have written numerous letters to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the Turkish presidential advisor and the Chinese Embassy in Istanbul, but have yet to receive any response. My only wish is that every innocent person who has lost children, parents, relatives and loved ones can live with them again,” said Buyripati. “