Amid human rights abuses by China, Australia's Uyghurs in despair over disappearance of relatives

·3-min read
Representative Image
Representative Image

Melbourne [Australia], June 4 (ANI): As Beijing continues its human rights abuses against ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang, Uyghurs living in Australia are left in despair over the 'disappearance' of their relatives in China.

Yusuf Hussein, an Australian citizen of Uighur ethnicity, and his five children have not been able to contact his elderly parents since 2017. "Suddenly, [they] disappeared and none of them answered my phone...They didn't message me at all. I tried to send a message. None of them responded," he told Al Jazeera.

Hussein believes that his 85-year-old father, mother and siblings have been transferred to what he describes as a "concentration camp" - large-scale detention centres that have reportedly detained over one million Uyghur Muslims.

The president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria, Alim Osman, said at a recent parliamentary inquiry there were about 5,000 Uyghurs living in Australia, with about 1,500 of them thought to be in Adelaide, a city of 1.3 million people on the south coast. Out of these, many Uyghurs living in Australia have similar stories of loved ones being detained or disappearing together.

Mayila Yakufu, the elder sister of Marhaba Yakub Salay, another Australian citizen of Uyghur ethnicity, is also currently imprisoned in Xinjiang for the second time, reported Al Jazeera.

Yakufu was was first detained for 10 months in 2017, though she did not say where she had been.

"She didn't say anything, but she said, 'Don't worry about us - the Chinese Communist Party is looking after us very well," Salay said, adding that he believed she was calling from another location under government supervision.

That was the last time they spoke and in May 2019, Yakufu was arrested again. She was arrested "on suspicion of financing terrorist activities", according to an email from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) - which Al Jazeera has seen.

This money, Salay said, was not for terrorism, but to buy a home. "It's black and white evidence - but the Chinese government still accuses my sister of supporting terrorism overseas," he said.

Salay further believed that such charges have been invented by the Chinese government for the purposes of detaining her Uighur sister, with the DFAT email stating her sister was likely to be held "in a traditional prison, rather than a re-education camp".

Almas Nizanidin, another resident in Australia, said his wife Buzainafu Abudourexiti was sentenced to seven years to prison in 2017 on what he says is "no charge" and with "no evidence".

Nizanidin had planned to return to China to help his wife emigrate to Australia, where he has been living since 2009, but she was interned before he could do so, and he has no knowledge of her whereabouts, Al Jazeera reported.

He also said that his mother - a 55-year-old high school maths teacher - was also arrested and sent to a detention centre for more than two years. Though she was eventually released last year, Nizanidin maintained that his mother would not say anything about her experience.

Hussein, Salay and Nizanidin all said that the Australian federal government has provided support for investigations into what has happened to their loved ones.

Amid the backdrop of China's gross human rights violations against ethnic minorities, relations between Beijing and Canberra have also spiralled downwards.

Tensions between China and Australia have escalated over a slew of issues which have now led to a point where the Chinese state-media threatened ballistic missile strikes if Canberra gets involved in a potential military conflict over Taiwan.

Meanwhile, China has also been globally rebuked for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities, and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination. (ANI)