Uyghurs in Turkey: far from China but close to fear

Uighurs living in Turkey demonstrate for the release of their relatives detained in China on February 5, 2021 in front of the Chinese Embassy in Ankara. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Uyghurs in Turkey have expressed worries over being extradited and the safety of their families in China, saying they don’t contact them, fearing their loved ones will be prosecuted for being in communication with people abroad, Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service reported.

Speaking to Tunca Öğreten of DW, Abdüşükür, an Uyghur who sought asylum in Turkey five years ago, said he had not spoken to his mother that entire time because contact with people overseas is a reason for prosecution in China and he didn’t want to put her in danger.

Other Uyghur families also expressed worries concerning their families in China. One man identified as Ömer Faruk, a naturalized Turkish citizen, said his two daughters were in China and that he hadn’t heard from them for some time.

Faruk said his brothers, who were supposed to bring the girls to Turkey, were arrested a short time ago for their investments in Turkey. He said his mother and mother-in-law were sent to camps, which is where he believes his daughters are also held.

Although he appealed to Turkish authorities several times to help him contact his daughters, he said he had not been able to get an answer. “Uyghurs who are citizens of other countries have managed to bring their children to wherever they are,” he said. “I know people in Austria and Egypt who have successfully brought their children. We contacted the Turkish Embassy in Beijing several times, but it seems like China does not take Turkey seriously.”

Uyghurs, a Turkic group native to China’s far west Xinjiang region, have sought refuge in Turkey for decades because of their shared cultural ties. Turkey, however, has become less vocal about the plight of Uyghurs in recent years as it has developed economic ties with China.

Uyghurs in Turkey not only worry about their families but also for their own safety as China has recently ratified an extradition agreement with Turkey, which was signed several years ago. Turkey has yet to ratify the agreement, but according to a Nordic Monitor report, the text of the treaty contains ambiguous phrases that might trigger the extradition of scores of Uyghurs from Turkey and violate extradition mechanisms regulated by the European Convention on Extradition (ECE), to which Turkey is a party.

Both Turkish and Chinese authorities insist that the extradition treaty does not aim to target Uyghurs for deportation.

However, the minds of Uyghurs in Turkey are not at rest. Some Uyghurs have said their acquaintances were deported to China. According to one Uyghur asylum seeker, Ihsan Yilmaz, a man named Burhan Kerim was deported in 2018. A woman named Ziynetgül Tursun was also deported with her children in 2019.

Abdüşükür said he was even more worried about being extradited since he had participated in protests against China and was detained twice by Turkish authorities. “They told me I was under investigation,” he said.

A group of Uyghurs recently staged a demonstration in front on the Chinese Embassy, demanding information about their family members in China. While the police did not allow journalists to cover the protest, four of the protestors were escorted into a police van. The police insisted that they were not being detained.

An estimated 50,000 Uyghurs are currently living in Turkey, making it the largest Uyghur diaspora in the world.

Canada’s parliament declared China’s treatment of Uyghurs genocide yesterday after former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said China had committed genocide.

After Canada’s decision Turkish Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Serdar Çam said on Twitter that this was a “political move” and not convincing. He added that this decision was only intended to gain the upper hand in the “global economic competition.”

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