Becoming a mother or a father is often described as one of the best feelings in the world. It’s like starting a new chapter – the joys of bringing a little one home, raising them and watching them achieve their goals.
Now imagine if one day you were taken away from your children and thrown into an internment camp, with no idea of why you were there, or whether you would ever be able to see your children again. Imagine that the explanation you’re then given is that your crime was practicing your religion, and because of this you will be tormented. How would you feel? Scared, right? Well, that is exactly how millions of Uyghurs are feeling right now in China.
If you have still not heard our cries, then here I am screaming louder than ever, to tell you that the Uyghur people are a beautiful community of Turkic Muslims. We have our own language, culture, and music. We even design our own traditional clothing patterns. But we also practice Islam, and that is why China is persecuting us.
At present, more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims are locked in horrific “re-education” camps where they are forced to forget their identities and denounce Islam. A recent story by The Independent about a Human Rights Watch report on the increasing human rights violations in the Uyghur region, revealed the horrifying levels of abuses against the Uyghur community on the part of the Chinese government. Today, thousands of children with parents locked up in the camps are sent to orphanages. The roads in the Xinjiang region stand empty, with houses locked up and shops closed because their owners were apprehended. Since I fled China with my own family, the situation has only worsened.
I am a young woman now living “safely” in London with my parents, but the idea of losing them still keeps me awake at night. As an 11-year-old child living in China, I used to always feel fearful and knew that if anything went wrong, that even my parents wouldn’t be able to save me.
We left China after one of our neighbours, Patime, had an abortion while she was six months pregnant. She didn’t survive the operation, and the cruelty of the authorities was a wake-up call for my family to leave China. The government announced plans to end the One Child Policy, but Uyghur families were constantly monitored, and forced abortion was a common thing. That feeling of dread still lives in me, and discourages me from sharing my identity with people.
Escaping abroad to the United Arab Emirates didn’t change much. Chinese embassies keep an eye on Uyghurs living in foreign countries, and keep pressuring governments to deport Uyghurs back. They even blackmail students by holding their families hostage back in China. We can’t say that a particular country is safe for us. Even countries like Sweden have upheld orders for deportation. Uyghurs have to keep an eye on their present country’s relationship with China; if the influence increases, so does the danger. Its like watching the news to determine whether or not you’ll be safe every day.
After the accession of East Turkestan by the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the crackdown on Uyghur Muslims started slowly. First, children were stopped from learning about the Quran, then from going to mosques. It was followed by bans on ramadan, growing beards, giving Islamic names to your baby, etc. Then our language was attacked – we didn’t get jobs if we didn’t know Mandarin. Our passports were collected, we were told to spy on each other, innocent Uyghur prisoners were killed for organ harvesting, and the list kept increasing, making the region feel like an open prison.
At present, there are face-recognition cameras everywhere, QR codes have been installed outside the houses as well as inside kitchen utensils belonging to Uyghur Muslims. Women are being forced to marry Han Chinese. At any time, Uyghur’s can be stopped by police and sent to the camps – it seems people are not allowed to even think without China’s permission.
Despite the severity of atrocities inflected on Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese government, the country still sits proudly as a permanent member of United Nations, and simply denies the existence of these things. In spite of all the proof, China has not even allowed the UN to conduct a free investigation in the region. Even the journalists who try to cover the situation have been detained or tailed by police. The world must stop these atrocious human rights violations, so that we do not follow in the footsteps of China, where practising your religion is a crime.