Shirmuhammed Hasan — seen here with his mother — fears for the safety of his family in Xinjiang. (Supplied: Shirmuhammed Hasan)
Uyghurs living in Australia are lobbying the Federal Government to provide urgent refugee protection through the creation of a special humanitarian visa.
- Around 20 Uyghurs in Australia have applied for refugee visas
- They want the Government to adopt a similar model to Sweden, where Uyghur claims are fast-tracked
- It comes amidst concerns about China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority
Community representatives last week visited Canberra to meet with Government and Opposition MPs to outline their case, amid increasing international concern over China’s treatment of the ethnic minority.
The visit included a meeting with Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie for assistance in making representations to Immigration Minister David Coleman.
This week, the United States and more than 30 other countries condemned the country’s “horrific campaign of repression” against the Uyghur people living in the western region of Xinjiang.
Video footage also emerged of blindfolded Uyghurs, with shaved heads and in shackles, being herded by Chinese police.
A delegation of Australian Uyghurs recently met with with Government MP Andrew Hastie. (Supplied: Nurmuhammad Majid)
East Turkistan Australian Association president Nurmuhammad Majid, who led the Canberra delegation, said there were more than 20 Uyghurs in Australia currently seeking refuge.
“At the moment there is a huge amount of persecution in practice by the Chinese Government,” Mr Majid said.
“We strongly believe that the case of the Uyghurs be taken as one of the most compelling situations in terms of human rights concerns by the global community.”
He called for the adoption of a similar model to Sweden, where Uyghur refugee claims are fast-tracked.
“Australia is a country where democracy is flourishing, therefore the refugee status of the Uyghurs under the current compelling conditions should be given the first utmost priority,” Mr Majid said.
“We truly want our Government to take immediate action to the applicants who are waiting for the outcome of their applications at the moment.”
‘What should I do?’
Aygul* arrived in Australia in 2016, and currently lives in Adelaide, home to Australia’s largest Uyghur community.
She told the ABC she applied for refugee status in 2017 but is still waiting to hear from the Immigration Department.
“They didn’t tell me anything … I didn’t receive any interview of any information from the [Australian] Government,” Aygul said.
“I always think: ‘what will happen, how is it going on, what’s the result at the end, what should I do?’
“I’m only waiting, and it makes me nervous and worried.”
She said her father told her not to return home because the Chinese Government would take her passport away and not let her out of the country again.
“After a few months, he told me ‘we can’t contact on phone, you can’t contact us and it’s getting terrible’,” she said.
“My hometown has totally changed to a jail and, you know, everyone is very nervous.”
Aygul said her brother was put in a detention camp.
She said the videos that emerged a week ago appearing to show Uyghur men handcuffed and blindfolded at a train station worried her.
“I was thinking about my brother if he is the same like that, oh my God, I can’t imagine the situation but it makes me really heartbroken,” she said.
“My parents — they can’t tell me everything, they can’t talk about that but I can see on their face they’re not happy.”
‘I thought this country was safe’
Another Uyghur living in Australia, Shirmuhammed Hasan, sought refuge in 2017.
He said he has been on a bridging visa ever since.
Mr Hasan said he had not been called for an interview by the Department of Immigration to finalise his refugee claim, which he said worried him.
He said he moved to Australia after hearing reports from Xinjiang that people from the Uyghur minority were being placed into detention camps.
“I was working in the South-East Asian countries for five-and-a-half years before but … [for] safety reasons I moved to Australia because … people are just captured and jailed without any reason [in Xinjiang],” Mr Hasan said.
He said he had been contacted by Chinese police while in Australia.
“I thought this is a country where I feel totally safe, but the facts prove that I’m not,” he said.
“Even last year I’ve been contacted by the Chinese security agents.”
He said if he returned to China, he believed he would be put into a Chinese Government detention camp, where the United Nations estimate up to one million Uyghurs are being detained.
“I would definitely be captured and [would spend] the end of my life in jail.”
Statements previously released by the Chinese Government state the centres are for vocational re-education, de-radicalisation of extremists and Chinese language learning.
A son not seen since he was born
Mr Hasan said he was most worried about his family living in Xinjiang, including his two-year-old son, whom he had not seen since he was born.
Mr Hasan’s son, whom he has not seen the two-year-old boy was born. (Supplied: Shirmuhammed Hasan)
“I’m always worried about my son and family members and my friends,” he said.
“My relatives and my friends, they’re all under magnificent oppression and their lives are under threat.
“Many of them are in jail now without any reason and some of them, I don’t even know if they’re alive or dead.”
According to the Swedish Migration Agency, Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities from the Chinese province of Xinjiang are classified as “at risk of persecution” if they return to China.
The group lobbying the Federal Government is seeking a similar model, where the creation of a special humanitarian visa sub-class would fast-track protection for Uyghurs in recognition of the risk they face in China.
Immigration Minister David Coleman told the ABC the Australian Government recognised the situation in Xinjiang, but all refugee claims were processed individually.
“Each application is considered on its individual merit using current and comprehensive information on the circumstances in the relevant country,” Mr Coleman said.
“[Australia’s] humanitarian program operates flexibly to respond to evolving humanitarian situations and global resettlement needs.”
Chinese Government looked up refugee’s social media
Aygul told the ABC that Chinese police pressured her parents in Xinjiang to ask her to return to China.
“My parents were called by local government in my home town. They asked them what I’m doing in Australia, and they asked [my parents] for my social media accounts,” she said.
“I think my social media accounts were looked at by the Government and my parents can’t say no.”
Aygul said if the Australian Government created the new visa class, it would be a big relief for many Uyghurs in the same situation.
“We lost our country and Australia will be our second country, so if we get the protection from Australia, of course, we will be very happy … it’s good for our nationality,” she said.
“A lot of young boys and young children, they were taken by [the Chinese] Government and given to Han people … [who] changed all their religion, their habits.
“When they grow up they’re not Uyghur, their mind, everything was changed by the [Chinese] Government.
“Our nationality will be disappeared if it still goes like that.”
The Chinese Government’s official position is that Xinjiang remains a long, inseparable part of Chinese territory.
It claimed the region has been multi-ethnic since ancient times.
*This name has been changed at the request of the source
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