500 Uighur Turks fled China for Turkey

500 Uighur Turks fled China for Turkey

Zeynep Bilgehan KAYSERİ
500 Uighur Turks fled China for Turkey

DHA Photo.

A month ago, 500 Uighur Turks fled the western Chinese region of Xinjiang and settled in state housing previously used as official residences for police officers in the city of Kayseri.

The refugees agreed to tell their stories under the condition of anonymity, because they fear for the lives and safety of their families who are still in China. Here is the story of their escape:

Turkey has been home for thousands Uighur Turks who fled China since the 1950s. However, in the last couple of months the migration rate rapidly increased due to the law passed early this year that bans Uighur Turks to practice their religion freely. Turkey is the leading country that Uighur refugees would like to immigrate to. Seyit Tümtürk, vice president of the World Uighur Congress, said there are 367 detained Uighur refugees in Thailand who tried to flee China last month and those who managed to arrive in Istanbul were settled in Kayseri by Turkish authorities about a month ago.

No job opportunites, no freedom of religion

The housing hosts 90 families, in one of the three-roomed houses we talked to a group of refugees. Most of them are either butchers or cooks. They come from different cities including Aksu and Kashgar. Some were able to flee along with their families, while others are looking forward to the day they meet again. When they were asked about why they left China, they talked about the hardships and injustice they have been facing in the region.

“They wouldn’t let us sell our own goods and halal products in our stores. There aren’t any job opportunities. Praying is prohibited. They don’t let us cover our heads. We cannot teach our children our customs and traditions,” they said.

$5,000 bribe

“You have to pay $50,000-$100,000 in bribes in order to get a passport, however, once you make the payment there is no guarantee that you will receive the passport. Even if you get one, it’s not easy to leave. You might have a visa from Turkey, but China will not let you to leave the country. To flee, first you have to pay $250 to go to China’s coastal towns as workers in the back of trucks. On the border with the help of smugglers, you either go to Thailand or Cambodia and again by paying $5,000-10,000 you cross into Malaysia. The journey takes approximately 15 to 20 days and people might die on the way,” they said.

Some also said they flew to Turkey with the help of Turkish government; however, they do not want to give the details of the journey because their relatives are trying to flee using the same methods.

Final destination: Turkey

Uighur Turks consider Turkey as the final destination in this journey. 

“No other country would take us. For instance, if you do not have a residency permit in Saudi Arabia they send you back. After you arrive in Istanbul they give you a document and with that document you can apply for permanent residency.” 

However they also complained that authorities in Istanbul did not look out for them after they arrived.
“We were living with our relatives for a while. We were three families living in the same house. Later we sought assistance from East Turkestan Culture and Solidarity Association and they helped us move to Kayseri. We are very happy here and now we are able practice our religion freely,” they added.

The 360 Uighur Turk refugees who were captured in Thailand while trying to flee China in March 2014 are being kept in refugee prison in the south of the country.