The experience of being a minority is nothing that one can imagine without actually being a minority. You must have noticed the issues regarding minority populations; being oppressed, mistreated and abandoned. From very recent events, we can name the Rohingya people, the Catalonians, the Kurdish and the Uyghur people of North Eastern China. My conversation partner was Adila, an ethnically Uygur international student from China. We talked about the Uyghur people, and the current situation in Xinjiang, the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
Would you tell us about the Uyghur people and your culture?
Adila: We, the Uyghurs, have a long history of 2000 years. We have historical connections with Turks, and we are considered as one of the Turkic ethnicities.
Obviously, the Uyghur language comes from the Turkic language family, it’s similar to Uzbek, Kazakh and Turkish.
Long before the Qing and Chinese occupation, the region was called East Turkistan. And now we have a population of around 12 million.
What about the religion?
A.: We are Muslims. Almost the majority of the population is Muslim. But the religion is not too widely practiced. As you know, having a socialist government means it is unfavourable.
There is an issue, namely the re-education camps. According to Chinese authorities these are called “vocational training camps”. What are these?
A.: Yes, there are several of them in the region. These are, actually, concentration camps where people die and suffer. It started operating in 2017.
People are being sent to these camps, for reasons such as having some photos or videos that have to do with Islam or having something that is deemed suspicious by the Chinese government.
Some are even being sent to the camps because of their relatives abroad. And once when you are inside you will have no connection with your family outside.
What is the purpose of these camps? And how many people are there?
A.: What the authorities say is that it is to enlighten the Uyghur people with its communist values and ideology, and to prevent any potential religious radicalism.
People there are forced to praise the government and sing propaganda songs.
And being forcefully taught that religion is false. They are told to speak Chinese; no Uyghur language is allowed to be heard. And I think there are around 2 million people there.
Do you know how is it like inside the camps? Do you have any connections with people in it?
A.: People have no opportunities to reach their family members who are inside these camps. All that we know and all that I know comes from what people who are released from these camps say.
A woman reported that there are 40 women living together, in a small room.
They have only one pair of clothes, which can only be washed once a week. Water and food shortages are constant.
You said all this information are reported by the people who are released. Do you know any people who are free?
A.: No, as far as I know no civilian has been released. This report comes from a woman who was Uyghur but a citizen of Egypt. It seemed like the Egyptian embassy demanded her. And many others like her; for example, one former government watchdog, a guy in Turkey, confessed and shared all the information that he gathered from spying and so on.
I am really sorry to ask, do you have any family members in these camps?
A.: Yes, unfortunately. I think all the Uyghurs have someone there. My aunt who is 42, was taken in 2017. Police came one day and searched everything.
Eventually, they found some videos of the 2009 rebellion on her phone and she was taken to a camp.
Ever since then, none of us could reach her or hear about her. Her children and husband never got a chance to contact her. We don’t know whether she is alive or not. And it’s the same case for all other victims of this forced abduction.
Are you afraid for your own safety?
A.: I am more worried about my family. I haven’t seen them for three years. We talk on the phone, but I can’t go back, because I am definitely going to end up in one of the camps.
What are your personal feelings about all of this? And if you have any final comments?
A.: Well, it is heartbreakingly unfair. I can’t think of any positive explanations.
A friend of mine has almost 30 family members there.
Almost their whole family is gone, and we don’t know anything about their lives. As for my aunt, what about her children and husband? Many innocent people are victimised. There are some freedom fighters, but the Chinese government is dealing with all the people, including many innocent people. They are killing our identity. Being Uyghur in China is like having no future. And that’s not everything...
Written by: Itgelt Batochir