Turkey offers shelter to 500 Uighur refugees who fled Chinese crackdown
by Ayşe Şahin
ISTANBULJan 15, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Ayşe Şahin
Jan 15, 2015 12:00 am
Five-hundred Uighurs who have been seeking refuge in Turkey since fleeing Chinese persecution are finally breathing easy after reaching the country that has been eager to receive them.
The Uighurs who completed the thorny journey to Turkey have been placed in lodgings allocated for them in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri.
Some Uighurs have been forced to seek shelter in other countries by the pressures they face in China. Turkey had previously expressed its stance on hosting Uighur asylum seekers when they officially requested Thailand to send 367 Uighur refugees to Turkey and not back to China, where they could possibly face death upon return.
Dozens of people were spotted at a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand in March who were deemed to be illegal immigrants by Thai officials. The group of people identified as Uighurs from China's restive northwestern province of Xinjiang, had fake Turkish passports and sought to escape the shadow of fear in China.
Turkey acted sensitively over the issue owing to the fear that the Uighurs could face death if sent back to China, and made a strong case that they should be transferred to Turkey.
Shaking off the oppression they had been coping with back home, some of the refugees were able to reach Turkey without getting caught in Thailand, many of whom were aided by Turkey's helping hand. Among the 500 who arrived in Turkey are reportedly also those who broke free from a human smuggling camp in Thailand.
"[Some of] those who fled atrocity were caught in Thailand and 367 Uighurs are being kept there. Some of those who could make it to Turkey without being caught have been brought to Kayseri [in Turkey]. The number may increase," said Seyit Tümtürk, the deputy head of the World Uyghur Congress.
Tümtürk added that the refugees who were placed in the lodgings prepared for them are being taken care of and that all their needs are being met by officials.
Noting that sensitivity has emerged on the subject in public, Tümtürk continued: "The harsh crackdown by Chinese authorities and their policies of [assimilation] are currently at a peak. East Turkistan is the only region where fasting is banned. On the first day of Eid al-Fitr two villages were razed in Kashgar and 3,000 people were killed there, and the whole world refused to utter a word of objection. Twenty-seven of our brothers from East Turkistan who were held responsible for the killings were condemned to death" East Turkestan is the Uighur language term for Xinjiang.
Tümtürk underscored that the world's silence encourages China. He also said that the practices of religion in East Turkistan are labeled a crime by the Chinese constitution.
"The symbolic elements of Islam such as headscarves and prayer rugs are counted among elements of terrorism. So are praying, fasting and receiving a religious education."
Noting that there is an influx of Uighur refugees fleeing their homes and risking their lives, Tümtürk said that the number of Uighurs seeking refuge in Turkey may increase.
"Turkey, which has opened its doors to 1.5 million Syrians and Iraqis, will surely host our brothers from East Turkistan."