Uighurs in Canada fear deportation after China's crackdown on Turkic Muslims

Uighurs who have made refugee claims in Canada are anxiously waiting to find out if they'll be deported back to China, now that the country is doubling down on its suppression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

'My life is over if I go back to China,' says 18-year-old Uighur refugee claimant

A flurry of recent reports from Human Rights Watch, the UN and other outlets has found that China is committing massive, systemic human rights violations against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
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Ethnic Uighurs who have made refugee claims in Canada fear deportation, after a Human Rights Watch report detailed a crackdown on China's suppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang​.

The HRW says they have "new evidence of the Chinese government's mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment."

This comes after last month's claim by the U.N. that a million ethnic Uighurs in China were in what they referred to as a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."

Abira, an 18-year-old Uighur woman, left China four years ago with her mother to go to the United States.

When Abira's father in China fell ill, her mother flew home to take care of him — and, due to threats there, her parents ended up flying to Canada and making a refugee claim.

Abira came to Canada last year and made her own refugee claim. In July, she received a deportation notice.

"My life is over if I go back to China. I don't have any family back home, and if I go back they're definitely going to put me in the camp," Abira told The Current's producer Allie Jaynes. 

"I'm still worried about my mom's claim because if they reject us again, we're definitely going to send back to China."

After activists brought Abira's case to Global Affairs Canada, she was allowed to stay in Canada until her mother's refugee appeal is decided. 

Abira says her family can't sleep through the night out of fear of deportation.

"My dad, he's depressed every day. You can't see any happiness in his face," she said, adding her mom's hair is falling out.

"We just want somewhere to protect us. We just want somewhere to welcome us. We just want a home."

When asked whether the Canadian government plans to continue to deport Uighur refugee claimants to China, the Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada replied that "Canada has not considered any special program for Uyghurs."

Omir Bekali demonstrates how he was strung up by his arms in Chinese detention before being sent to an internment camp during an interview in Almaty, Kazakhstan, March 29, 2018. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Chinese officials have denied accusations of "arbitrary detention" and insist there are no "re-education centres." According to the HRW report, China characterizes the facilities in question as "vocational education and employment training centres."

But Mehmet Tohti, the founder of Uighur Canadian Association, characterized them as "concentration camps."

He wants to see the UN and other international allies mobilize together to stand up against "these 21st-century atrocities" and "urge the Chinese government to release the victims."

In a statement to The Current, Global Affairs Canada wrote: "Canada has consistently called on the Chinese government to address concerns about the widespread restrictions on freedom to worship and observe religious traditions, and about repressive state policies and coercive police actions against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province."

Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)
The Globe and Mail's Asia Correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe has been reporting extensively on Uighurs and Xinjiang. He paints a picture of China's northwestern province and describes the omnipresence of security. 1:28

According to Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian Ambassador to China, Canadian officials are aware of developments on the ground in China.

He explained that a judge considers each person's story when it comes to deportation cases like Abira's.

"The individual has to demonstrate why he or she fears [they] could be subject to detention," he said, adding that given the situation in China in the last two years have gotten worse, a judge most likely will take this into account.

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.


With files from Reuters and CBC News. Produced by Allie Jaynes.

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