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No Happy New Year for Uyghurs in hiding

Reshna Reem Ganesan - January 1, 2022

Brother (not his real name) does not want to be identified for fear of the consequences his family in Xinjiang might suffer. (Freepik pic)

PETALING JAYA: Alone, afraid and in anguish. Such a state of mind is typical of many Uyghurs living in Malaysia, according to one of them.

We shall call him Brother because he does not want to be identified for fear of the consequences his family in Xinjiang might suffer.

Since 2014, Uyghur Muslims fleeing persecution in China have been passing through Malaysia to seek refuge in countries such as Turkey, but a small group still remains here.

However, Brother was not fleeing his home when he came.

“I came in 2014 to study English after graduating in architecture in Xinjiang,” he told FMT. “But I can’t return to China because it is no longer safe for me. Also, my legal documents have expired.”

He said he was constantly looking over his shoulder, worrying that Chinese authorities would locate, extradite and transfer him to an internment camp in Xinjiang.

He said he had repeatedly attempted to renew his documents but to no avail.

The Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, now make up less than half of the population in Xinjiang, which many of them refer to as East Turkestan.

In recent decades, according to human rights groups, there have been mass migrations of Han Chinese into Xinjiang province, allegedly orchestrated by the state to dilute the Uyghur population.

Time and again, China has been accused of committing atrocities against the Uyghurs, such as compulsory sterilisation of women, forced labour and sexual violence.

But China has denied the claims.

Brother said he came to Malaysia with his wife, who subsequently gave birth to a girl.

However, his wife and two-month-old daughter went back to China in 2018.

“The last I heard, my wife has been detained and sent to an internment camp, and I am not sure where my daughter is,” he said.

“My daughter is four years old now and I will probably never hear her call me papa.

“I don’t know what happens in the camp my wife is in and it breaks my heart thinking about her suffering.”

But he has hope. “Call me naïve,” he said, “but I still believe that I’ll be able to see my family again. It keeps me fighting for another day.”

Although Brother is temporarily undocumented and residing in Malaysia, he feels he will not be extradited because of Malaysia’s stand on Uyghur issues.

Malaysia4Uyghur president Zuhri Yuhyi said Malaysia was attempting to find a balance between maintaing good relations with the superpower and meeting the public’s expectations.

“What China needs to understand is that Malaysia is pro-Uyghur and not anti-China, and until it does, it will be hard for Malaysia to take a stronger stance on this issue,” he said.

Zuhri said listening to Brother’s story was heart-wrenching.

“Every day wondering about your family is a form of torture,” he said. “Yet he finds the strength to remain hopeful. It puts things in perspective and reminds us to appreciate all that we have.”

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