'I have nothing else to lose': Uighur Canadians fear for relatives who may be imprisoned in China
Uighur Canadians call on Ottawa to take action against mass detention
Mustaqil Tuygun's brother might be imprisoned in China. He doesn't know for sure.
"I heard one of my brothers got sent to jail for 17 years for listening to the Quran with his friends," the Durham College student said in an interview on Monday.
"It's 2019, it shouldn't be like this," he added. "He didn't do anything wrong."
The Tuyguns are a Uighur family from the Xinjiang region in China. Mustaqil fled Xinjiang with his father in 2015 but the rest of his relatives couldn't follow. He hasn't heard from his mother in two years.
"I don't know if they're dead or alive," the 20-year-old said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
"I have nothing else to lose anymore. I lost my country. I lost my people; my mom, my relatives. I've lost everything I can." he said.
'Is it my brother? Is it my sister?'
"Every time I hear about the camp, I think, 'Is it my brother? Is it my sister?'" said Aminiguli Aizezi. The 29-year-old lives in East York with her husband and three children. In the summer of 2014, a few months before she moved to Canada with her family, her brother was detained in China.
"Police came to my home and they said, 'We have to talk with you for a few hours,' to my brother. They took him and we never heard from him again," she said.
After a few months, Aizezi said her family was told that her brother would be detained for 14 years because he was caught performing Salah, or Muslim prayers.
"I try to call them all the time," she said. "All the time."
Canada's former ambassador to China, David Mulroney, called China's treatment of the Muslim minority group "the worst thing we've seen because of its scope" in recent history.
"They're demolishing mosques, they're bulldozing Muslim graveyards, they've forbidden the use of Muslims to wear traditional clothing and so its a systematic effort to erase a culture." Mulroney added in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.
When pressed on the issue, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said: "Let me reiterate our position that Xinjiang affairs are China's internal affairs. Certain media are trying to smear China's counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts in Xinjiang by despicably hyping up Xinjiang-related issues, but their attempts will not succeed. Stability, ethnic solidarity and harmony in Xinjiang is the best response to such disinformation."
Global Affairs Canada has responded to the reports.
"This is an issue our government has raised directly with the Chinese. Canada has consistently spoken out publicly at the UN Human Rights Council urging Chinese authorities to release all Uyghurs arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang. This includes statements in September 2018, November 2018, and March 2019,"
But Aziezi and Tuygun are hoping for stronger action. In the meantime, they're trying to preserve the memories they have of their lost families as much as they can.
"I remember my mother cooking Uighur food for us," Aziezi said. "Every time I sit down with my kids for lunch, dinner, whatever, I miss her so much."
"At times I cry," Tuygun said. "I remember being with [my mother]. I can't forget."