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Uyghur people kicked out of Egypt have vanished

HONG KONG (UCAN): At least 12 Uyghur students in Egypt were arrested and deported back to China last month in a demonstration of how far-reaching China’s arm is when it comes to keeping a grip on the beleaguered Muslim minority.
 
Since July, it has been reported that 150 Uyghur students in Egypt were rounded up and told there were some irregularities with their residency papers.
 
The students were studying religious education at Al-Azhar University and learning about Islam, something which is heavily restricted in the northwest Xinjiang territory.
 
Media reports said that at least 12 students were deported to China on July 6. Since then, it is unsure how many more have been sent back, but other reports suggest it may be more than 20.
 
“Increasingly, Chinese authorities see control over Islam and banning all non-authorised religious practice as a major security goal in their war on terror,” William Nee, a Hong Kong–based researcher on current affairs in China for Amnesty International, said.
 
The Chinese government has ramped up the battle in Xinjiang against what it terms religious extremism, linking it with acts of terrorism.
 
As part of those increased security measures, the government has put pressure on Uyghur students abroad to return to China.
 
Amnesty International claims that the local government in Xinjiang has detained some of the students’ relatives and used other scare tactics. In addition, Beijing has been putting pressure on the Egyptian government, as well as sending security agents to Cairo.
 
Amnesty explained that it believes that Uyghur people who are returned to Xinjiang face arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and other ill treatment.
 
“Of the people who have been deported from Egypt to China, no one has heard from them or knows where they are. They have essentially vanished,” Nee said.
 
Meenakshi Ganguly, the south Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Egyptian government should take into account that Uyghur people are often in the country to escape serious abuse and discrimination by the Chinese authorities—and essentially need to consider if they are seeking asylum.
 
“Egypt is obliged to ensure that no one in its custody is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture or other serious human rights violations,” Ganguly said.
 
“It should instead provide the Uyghur people with access to legal assistance and to officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” she added.
 
Fears of Uyghur deportation abroad are not just isolated to Egypt. Italian authorities detained a prominent Uyghur rights advocate, Dolkun Isa, on July 28 at the request of the Chinese government.
 
He was released after a few hours, but missed a press conference he was scheduled to speak at.
 
In July 2015, more than 100 asylum-seeking Uyghur people were repatriated to China from Thailand, when the country caved in to pressure from Beijing.
 
“Considering China’s growing clout and influence, many governments seem willing to flout international refugee laws and to ignore the entreaties from refugees not to be sent back,” Ganguly said.
 
Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, agreed on August 3 that Turkey will eliminate any media reports that are anti-China—a move said to step up cooperation with China in stamping out perceived acts of terrorism in Xinjiang and tightening joint security efforts.
 
There is a large Uyghur population in Turkey. However, the country is becoming increasingly unfriendly to the minority population under the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
 
The new muzzle on media reports is believed to directly target that Uyghur population, which is large, but remains mostly uncounted. Beijing holds the stance that some Uyghur people use Turkey as a stopover point to become Muslim extremist fighters in the Middle East.
 
“The Chinese government primarily views problems in Xinjiang as coming from outside of China to some extent, because authorities are unwilling to acknowledge that their own harsh security measures and discriminatory policies towards them have backfired,” Nee said.
 
China and Turkey have become cosier since the One Belt One Road initiative, a large-scale economic corridor under the current administration of Xi Jinping linking Beijing with the Middle East. Much of the project’s major infrastructure cuts through Xinjiang.
 
Al-Azhar University, where the Chinese Uyghur students were rounded up in Cairo, is a prestigious institution for religious education. It has long attracted Chinese students to study in what is now for China a highly strategic country in the One Belt One Road initiative.

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