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Kazakhs from Xinjiang say relatives not allowed to leave China

Kazakhs people, Xinjiang, China. (Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ethnic Kazakhs from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang say their relatives with permanent residence permits issued by Kazakhstan have been barred from leaving China after traveling there at the request of Beijing.

Several ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang told reporters in Astana on November 26 that their relatives were summoned by Chinese authorities to go to Xinjiang and, despite having received permanent resident status in Kazakhstan, have not been allowed to leave.

Speaking at a news conference, they said Chinese authorities confiscated Kazakh documents and Chinese travel passports from their relatives after they went back to China to deal with bureaucratic necessities.

Zhainar Serikqyzy told journalists that her 82-year old grandfather, Raesh Qazbekuly, obtained a Kazakh residence permit and was ordered by Chinese authorities to return to Xinjiang for documentation needs in September 2017.

He has been unable to return to Kazakhstan ever since, Serikqyzy said. She said that an uncle also had to go back to Xinjiang in 2017 for bureaucratic reasons, but was detained upon his arrival and has been held incommunicado since then.

The Kazakhs also said that they had asked Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry earlier to help them to get their relatives back from China, but that the ministry said Kazakhstan cannot interfere in China’s internal affairs.

Foreign Ministry officials did not immediately comment on that allegation.

Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said there are 14 ethnic Kazakhs who are barred from leaving Xinjiang for Kazakhstan because they are accused of violating regulations and holding passports of both countries simultaneously.

Smadiyarov also said that, in all, 29 Kazakhs had been detained in China in recent years on suspicion of illegally having dual citizenship, of whom 15 had been released.

‘Reeducation Camps’

According to Smadiyarov, between January and September of 2018, some 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs had been able to abandon their Chinese citizenship in a simplified process as it had been agreed by Astana and Beijing.

In several public gatherings and rallies in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, earlier this year, ethnic Kazakhs urged Kazakh authorities and Western countries to help release their relatives from so-called “reeducation camps” in Xinjiang.

After Kazakhstan gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere benefited from Kazakhstan’s state program for the resettlement of ethnic Kazakhs into the country.

Many of them obtained permanent residence in Kazakhstan or Kazakh citizenship but continue to visit Xinjiang on a regular basis either to see relatives of due to bureaucratic necessities.

The United Nations human rights officials said in August that an estimated 1 million Muslims, mainly Uyghurs, from Xinjiang were being held in “counterextremism centers” in China and millions more have been forced into reeducation camps.

Separately on November 26, a group of ethnic Kyrgyz originally from Xinjiang urged Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to seek the release of at least 50,000 relatives and others who they say are being held in the camps.

Uyghurs are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs, and the region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.

Han, China’s largest ethnicity, are the second largest community in Xinjiang.

China denies the facilities are internment camps. Officials say they are part of a “vocational education and training program” that helps people to “see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism.”

In October, the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial that Muslims in Xinjiang were vulnerable to foreign extremist propaganda and needed education and vocational skills.

The editorial accused the western media of “double standards” when it comes to reporting on Xinjiang, adding that the “false picture” of the region in the foreign media was “aimed at smearing the Chinese government.”