Uyghurs in Turkey Fear Deportation

As China and Turkey grow increasingly closer to reaching agreement on an extradition treaty, Turkey’s population of some 50,000 Uyghur refugees fear that they will be deported to China, where they face egregious human rights violations and religious persecution. Just last weekend, China’s National People’s Congress engaged in dialogue regarding the treaty, and it appears that it will be ratified in the comoing weeks.

The fears are legitimate, however. In 2017, the Chinese government went on a campaign to contact Uyghur diaspora communities in United States, Egypt, and Turkey and warn them that if they refuse to return to China, their family members would be imprisoned in detention centers. In August 2019, at least three Uyghurs that had been residing in Turkey – with legal residency – were deported to China via Tajikistan. Zinnetgul Tursun and her two toddler daughters were transported from Istanbul, Turkey to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where they were rounded up by Chinese authorities and returned to Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China. Tursun’s sister told Radio Free Asia that “I know my sister very well, and she would never have boarded that flight [to Ürümqi]” and that “I learned that they were given drugs that knocked them unconscious prior to being placed on the plane….” In July 2020, Uyghur Muslims contacted a UK newspaper to explain that they feared that their relative, 59-year-old mother Almuzi Kuwanhan, who had been detained in Izmir deportation center in Turkey, had been returned to China against her will.

In 2019, one Uyghur resident in Turkey, 44-year-old Imin Parach, was arrested in Istanbul and transported to a remote deportation center after he refused local police authorities’ demands to sign a fabricated statement admitting that he was a terrorist. After spending three months in the deportation center with some 20 other Uyghurs, Parach was released, though officials warned him “not to speak out against China.” Parach believes that China wanted to extradite him because he published a poetry book in 2018, Breathing in Exile, in which he exposes China’s persecution of Uyghurs. “I’m not sure if China is putting pressure directly on the Turkish government to control Uighurs here, or if Chinese agents have infiltrated Turkish society to frame us as terrorists.”

Turkey’s Ambassador to the US. Serdar Kilic, explained in May 2020 that “Allegations concerning the extradition of Uighur Turks from Turkey to third countries are mere fabrication and as such are far from reflecting the truth. Given our historical background and the fact that we share a common language, religion and culture with the Uighur Turks, any issue pertaining to their well-being holds a special place on our agenda. Extradition and judicial assistance requests by China, as is the case of any other third country, are examined in accordance with the international law, on the basis of full respect to human rights and within the framework of established practice.”

And while Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently asserted that it would be “wrong and unfair to say it’s a deal for the extradition of Uighurs. We are more sensitive to such issues than others” and that Turkey will not be forcibly deporting Uyghur residents, many human rights organizations and activists have raised the alarm regarding the growing fears:

“The Chinese government stops at nothing to persecute Uyghurs beyond its borders. The Uyghur community in Turkey is terrified. It’s our worst nightmare – that China will use strongarm diplomacy to force Turkey to deport innocent Uyghurs to China, where they face certain detention and torture, or worse.”Omer Kanat, Executive Director, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP)

“At first Uighurs didn’t take the treaty seriously because all countries have such agreements between each other … but the fact is that Chinese Han who flee go to the west, not Turkey, so this treaty is specifically targeting us. We have been sold out by our own, despite the ethnic and religious ties we have, which is very hurtful.”Arslan Hidayet, Australian Uyghur activist located in Istanbul, Turkey

“This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship. We call on the Turkish government … to prevent this treaty from becoming an instrument of persecution.” – Dilxat Raxit, Spokesman, Uighur World Congress

“Because the Chinese and Turkist governments have a different view of what a criminal is, the Chinese can misuse this law to claim that any Uighur is criminal and seek their extradition.’ – Dolkun Isa, President, World Uyghur Congress

Cover image by Carsten ten Brink on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)