Family Separation Is Haunting the Parents of Missing Uyghur Children

Young Uyghur boy in front of his home in Kashgar, China.

Since 2017, at least 1 million people have been arbitrarily detained in so-called “vocational training” centers in Xinjiang, China, while their children are sent to orphanages. (Image: Laszlo Mates via Dreamstime)

China is a country that has been making headlines for the wrong reasons of late. Its aggression in dealing with territory issues with neighboring countries and the attitude of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding racial issues are drawing criticism from different quarters. Its treatment of Uyghur children, in particular, has left human rights groups appalled. According to the latest research from Amnesty International, the state of exiled families of those kids who are kept in Xinjiang’s state “orphanages” is truly heartbreaking.

The organization, which is known for its humanitarian role and efforts to support human rights, spoke to some of the Uyghur parents who cannot return to China to be with their kids because they would risk being sent to internment camps. The families spoke of being separated from their children, some as young as 5 years old.

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A China-based Amnesty International researcher, Alkan Akad, lashed out at the inhumane attitude of the Chinese government. He said: “China’s ruthless mass detention campaign in Xinjiang has put separated families in an impossible situation: children are not allowed to leave, but their parents face persecution and arbitrary detention if they attempt to return home to care for them. The heart-breaking testimonies of the parents we spoke to only scratches the surface of the scale of suffering endured by Uyghur families separated from their children. The Chinese government must end its heartless policies in Xinjiang and ensure that families can be reunited as quickly as possible without fear of being sent to an oppressive camp.” (Amnesty International)

The organization conducted interviews with six exiled Uyghur families who are currently staying in faraway countries like Turkey, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada. They left China before the ruling CCP intensified its policy toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups four years ago. However, they did not think meeting their children would become a distant dream at that time.

Passengers are standing in line on the tarmac waiting to board a Hainan Airlines plane.
The exiled families left China before the ruling CCP intensified its policy toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups. (Image: Aleksandar Pavlovic via Dreamstime)

Post-2017, more than 1 million people have been detained arbitrarily in China’s so-called “vocational training” centers located in Xinjiang. They are undergoing ill-treatment, along with hard-core political indoctrination. Alkan Akad said: “Uyghurs overseas often hesitate to publicly talk about human rights abuses against them and their families due to fear of repercussions for their relatives back in China. In spite of such challenges, these parents have decided to publicly share their stories in the hope that it will help them reunite with their children soon.” (Amnesty International)

Parents sharing their stories of being separated from their Uyghur children

The heart-breaking stories of such Uyghur parents are now being shared online with the hope that intervention from governments of other countries may help them reunite with their separated Uyghur children and relatives in China.

Ablikim Memtinin and Mihriban Kader fled Xinjiang and escaped to Italy back in 2016. They were forced to do so after the Chinese police harassed them and made them give up their passports. Their four Uyghur children were left in the care of their grandparents. However, three of the kids were sent to an orphan camp, while the eldest child was sent to a boarding school. Mihriban and Ablikim lost contact with the kids. In November 2019, the Italian government gave them a permit to bring their kids to Italy. Sadly, the four Uyghur children reached the Shanghai Italian consulate only to be stopped by the Chinese police, who sent them back to the boarding school and orphanage again.

Kashgar, Xinjiang China Uyghur autonomous region.
The children traveled to Shanghai in order to get to the Italian consulate so they could be reunited with their parents, but Chinese police sent them right back to Xinjiang. (Image: Philippians44 via Dreamstime)

Mihriban is also heartbroken and feeling hopeless. She said: “Now my children are in the hands of the Chinese government and I am not sure I will be able to meet them again in my lifetime. The thing that hurts most is that, to my children, it’s as if their parents don’t exist anymore; as if we passed away and they are orphaned.” (Amnesty International)

Another Uyghur couple, Omer and Meryem Faruh, had to flee to Turkey in 2016 after they faced pressure from the Chinese police to submit their passports. As their two Uyghur children were young and did not have travel documents, they were left with their grandparents. Omer and Meryem were shocked to find that the relatives were all taken to camps. They have not heard anything about their Uyghur children since.

Amnesty International is trying its level best to negotiate with the Chinese government. It wants the government to offer unrestricted, full access to Xinjiang for researchers, journalists, and UN human rights experts. It also urges the governments of other nations to take proactive steps to ensure the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in China are reunited with their lost children.

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