By Ruth Ingram
A new report published by the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs has exposed systemic collusion and complicity between numerous Arab governments and Beijing in forcibly returning Uyghurs back to China.
Children torn from parents, husbands from wives, and fractured families scattered to the four winds at China's bidding, are the fallout from Arab state complicity in forceable Uyghur rendition.
Since 2001, according to new findings, 292 Uyghurs have been picked up, detained or deported from at least six Arab states, some whilst performing their Hajj pilgrimage.
One hundred and ninety-one of these individuals, having been given bonafide visas to study at Al-Azhar Mosque and University – one of the jewels of the Islamic world – were summarily hunted down in 2017 with the agreement of the Egyptian authorities, interrogated jointly with Chinese intelligence officers who reportedly joined Egyptian security services in Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison, and many forcibly returned to China.
Countless numbers of these vanished completely into the extra-judicial network of detention facilities built to intern "wayward" Uyghurs. They have never been seen or heard of again.
"Multi-layered tactics are employed to coral them 'home'. Transnational digital surveillance enables close monitoring of those living outside the motherland and denial of travel documents renders Arab state-resident Uyghurs stateless and vulnerable to deportation"
Beyond Silence, a comprehensive analysis of the roundups, by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, cites Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as the main culprits, all of which are involved in varying degrees of complicity with Beijing to pursue and return Uyghurs who have escaped Beijing's dragnet.
Islamic brotherhood and loyalty are no longer guarantees of safe haven for fleeing Uyghurs that they might once have been, according to the report whose in-depth analysis of dozens of case studies shows Arab collusion with the PRC on many levels to hunt down fellow Muslims.
Multi-layered tactics are employed to corral them "home". Transnational digital surveillance enables close monitoring of those living outside the motherland and denial of travel documents renders Arab state-resident Uyghurs stateless and vulnerable to deportation.
Uyghur students in Islamic education are sitting targets, as are those performing the Hajj or Umrah in Saudi Arabia, with the fail-safe excuse of the "Global War on Terror" and "counter-terrorism" to justify illegal detentions.
The findings assume greater poignancy with the invitation of China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi as the special guest at this year's 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) gathering in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 22.
Praising his country's effort at supplying 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines and miscellaneous pandemic paraphernalia to 50 Muslim countries, Wang Yi's appearance signals a growing rapprochement with Arab states.
They are increasingly prepared to overlook human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China's North West in favour of millions of dollars of loans and infrastructure projects that necessitate turning a blind eye to the well-documented atrocities.
Billions in aid payments are finding their way from China into Arab state coffers with Xi Jinping describing Chinese and Arab peoples as "though far apart in distance, as close as family."
Growing unease with Washington over its activities in the Gulf is fuelling a reluctance to ease rising oil prices precipitated by the Ukrainian crisis. Talks are also underway with Beijing to price some of its oil deals with China in yuan in order to chip away at the US dollar's dominance of the global petroleum market, and a rare visit by Chinese leaders to Riyadh is imminent.
A recent final insult is the threatened deportation of two Uyghurs from Saudi Arabia who were detained at the behest of Beijing in November 2020 while on a Hajj pilgrimage. Aimidoula Waili and Nuermaimaiti Ruze have languished without trial and face certain imprisonment or worse should they be returned to Xinjiang.
"[Beyond Silence] plead with Arab governments to confront Chinese trans-national repression in the region by forming coalitions of Islamic organisations strong enough to combat the might of the superpower"
Beyond Silence's in-depth analysis of the authors' own "China's Transnational Repression of Uyghurs Dataset" examines 1,546 cases of detention and deportation from 1997 until March 2021.
Original interviews with Uyghurs who have fled the region, multiple reports by expert witnesses, government documents in both English and Arabic and human rights reports, all point clearly to a greater cosying up of the Arab world to the PRC over the past 20 years, and incremental powerlessness of Uyghurs and their champions in the face of the might of the two power blocs.
UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat is outraged by the connivance of Arab governments with the Chinese government to persecute the Uyghur community.
"China’s hunt for Uyghurs across the globe means no Uyghur feels safe inside or outside of China,” he said. He urged governments to challenge the PRC's transgression of sovereign borders to rein in Uyghurs. "Muslim-majority states should be standing with Uyghurs against China’s crimes against humanity and genocide and not sending back vulnerable individuals to the government that is conducting an all-out campaign to stamp out Islam,” he said.
Beyond Silence urges the international community to step up protection of vulnerable Uyghurs whose safe havens are diminishing around the world.
The authors stress the need for safe pathways outside UNHCR processing channels that are all too easily intercepted by the CCP in its relentless hounding of Uyghur prey.
They plead with Arab governments to confront Chinese trans-national repression in the region by forming coalitions of Islamic organisations strong enough to combat the might of the superpower and students under their protection should never again be subject to inhuman events such as those that unfolded in Egypt in 2017.
Bradley Jardine, Research Director at the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs and a co-author of the report, said, “I hope this report will raise awareness of the global scale of China’s repressive crackdown on Uyghurs by noting that large parts of the Muslim world are not only silent, but they are also actively complicit in China’s humanitarian abuse.”
Speaking anonymously to The New Arab from Turkey, the wife of an Al-Azhar student who had fled Egypt amidst the roundups described the afternoon her husband had been dragged with his Uyghur classmates from class in 2017.
Six months pregnant with their first child and unable to attend lectures herself that day, she said there had been no warning of the impending arrests. "We were studying with both China's and Egypt's permission," she said. "We had done nothing wrong."
After she heard the news she knew if she stayed in Egypt the authorities would come after her. She was urged to go straight to the airport in case the border was still open and flee immediately to Turkey.
By some good chance, word had not yet reached the airport and she made it to Turkey. Five years since she lost her husband and the father of her child she feels betrayed by the country that should have given her refuge. "I will never see him again, and my son will never know his father," she tells through her tears.
"We have had no news and have no idea what happened to him... Why did our Muslim brothers do this to us?"
The author is writing under a pseudonym to protect her identity