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VOA: Uyghurs From Afghanistan Fear Deportation to China

The below article was published by Voice of America, photo credit: AP

As many as 2,000 ethnic Uyghurs born or living in Afghanistan have been placed in jeopardy by the Taliban takeover, with many fearing they will be deported China to join an estimated 1 million fellow Uyghurs in Xinjiang internment camps.

That estimate came from Afghan Uyghurs who spoke to VOA about their anxieties, especially as they see Taliban and Chinese officials exploring potential avenues for cooperation.

Memet, a Uyghur jewelry merchant from Kabul and the father of five, told VOA he was more frightened than he’d ever been before. He said he thought the Taliban, who are in dire need of economic support, would not hesitate to exchange people like him and his family for Chinese financial aid.

“I’m most fearful that the Taliban will eventually give us back to China, and China will just shoot us,” said Memet, who asked that only his first name be used. He said he was born in Afghanistan, the son of exiled Uyghur parents who came to Afghanistan in 1961 from China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang.

According to the Chinese government, more than 12 million Uyghurs live in Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan.

China-Taliban relations

Last month, when a Taliban delegation met with the Chinese foreign minister in Tianjin, China asked for the Taliban’s cooperation in combating the extremist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Afghanistan. The Taliban reiterated that they would never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China.

ETIM is a U.N.-designated international terrorist organization linked to Uyghur militants outside China. The United States removed it from its terror list in 2020, citing “no credible evidence” that it continued to exist.

Memet said the Chinese government considers any Uyghur in Afghanistan to be ETIM and therefore a threat to China.

“The Taliban have been saying they represent and protect the interests of Muslims, but what they are promising to [the] Chinese government is the exact opposite of that,” Memet said.

Memet’s fear of deportation is not unfounded, according to Bradley Jardine, an analyst at the Washington-based Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs.

“Deportations of Uyghurs have taken place historically under the Taliban, with 13 Uyghurs handed over to China following a [2000] meeting between Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Lu Shulin and Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar,” Jardine told VOA.

He added that Afghanistan has historically been viewed as safer for Uyghurs than neighboring Central Asian countries because it lacks a formal extradition treaty with China.

Jardine also referenced the reported deportation by the Afghan government of Israel Ahmat, a Uyghur businessman, in 2015.

Escaping persecution

A Uyghur woman in Kabul, who said she had been living in Afghanistan since 1961, told VOA over the phone that she was most worried for the safety of her children and grandchildren, who might end up in Chinese internment camps in Xinjiang.

“Running away from China’s persecution, my parents brought me to Afghanistan 60 years ago, and now I can’t take my children and grandchildren to a safe place as my parents had done when I was 5,” said the woman, who requested anonymity. She said the Uyghurs in Afghanistan needed urgent help from the international community to avoid deportation to China.

Countries such as the United States and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse China of genocide and crimes against humanity as it holds more than 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps in Xinjiang. China denies the accusations and says the camps are training centers where Uyghurs whose minds have been poisoned by religious extremism gain both vocational and legal training.

Possible disappearance

The Uyghurs in Afghanistan are mainly concentrated in cities such as Kabul, Badakhshan and Mazar-i-Sharif, said Abdulaziz Naseri, an Afghan Uyghur who has lived in Istanbul since 2019.

“My friends and relatives in those places call me and tell me that their homes are now being checked by Taliban forces,” Naseri told VOA from Istanbul.

There are two types of national identification cards in Afghanistan. This is a recent one that states the ethnicity of Uyghurs as “Uyghur.” (Abdulaziz Naseri)
There are two types of national identification cards in Afghanistan. This is a recent one that states the ethnicity of Uyghurs as “Uyghur.” (Abdulaziz Naseri)

Naseri said it is easy for the Taliban to find the Uyghurs because their Afghan national identification cards show “overseas Chinese” or “Uyghur” as their ethnicity.

This Afghan national ID card shows Uyghurs to be “overseas Chinese.” Abdulaziz Naseri is pictured on this card.(Abdulaziz Naseri)
This Afghan national ID card shows Uyghurs to be “overseas Chinese.” Abdulaziz Naseri is pictured on this card.(Abdulaziz Naseri)

“Taliban will take Uyghurs and hand them over to China and will deny the disappearance of Uyghurs as they have denied other forced disappearances of dissidents in the past,” Naseri said.

Henryk Szadziewski, research director at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, told VOA that given Beijing’s long record of transnational repression targeting Uyghurs, the possibility that China and the Taliban would cooperate to deport Uyghurs was high.

“The new administration in Kabul has long-standing ties to Beijing and is looking for political and economic support,” Szadziewski said. “The Uyghurs are caught between these actors whose obligations to international rights standards are either nonexistent or lip service at best.”

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