China is forcibly separating exiled Uighur parents from their children and placing them in state-run “orphan camps” or boarding schools, according to a new report from human rights group Amnesty International.
Parents living in Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey have given testimonies to Amnesty describing how they are unable to contact or receive any information about their children, some who are as young as five.
It’s believed more than one million Uighurs have been detained in “mass re-education” detention camps, where China has denied accusations of gross human rights abuses.
China has also denied claims of forced sterilisation, forced labour and mass rapes of the ethnic minority group.
It has also previously faced reports it was forcibly separating children and placing them in orphanages while their parents were detained.
In its new report, Amnesty has spoken with parents who were forced to leave their children behind with relatives while they were studying or working abroad, shortly before China’s crackdown against the Uighur minorities began in 2016.
They are now unable to return to see their children fearing they too will be incarcerated or subject to extra-legal punishment.
For some, it’s impossible to receive information about the whereabouts of their children.
“Some parents have received bits and pieces of information in the form of coded words, or photos and videos, from relatives and friends that make them believe their children were taken to state-run ‘orphan camps’ or boarding schools,” Amnesty says.
Mihriban Kader and her husband Ablikim Memtinin fled to Italy from Kashgar in 2016 after being harassed by police and told to hand over their passports.
Their four teenaged children were left without any guardians when their grandmother was interned and grandfather interrogated and sent to hospital, Amnesty said.
“Our other relatives didn’t dare to look after my children after what had happened to my parents,” Mr Kader told Amnesty.
“They were afraid that they would be sent to camps, too.”
The children then were forced to set off on a gruelling 5000 km journey from Kashgar to Shanghai to apply for Italian visas in June 2020.
When they finally made it to the consulate, they were refused entry and told to head to the Italian embassy in Beijing, but lockdown rules meant they were unable to travel there.
Days later, the children were taken by police from a Shanghai hotel and sent to an orphanage and boarding school in Kashgar.
“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,” Mr Kader said.
“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.”
Parents Omer and Meryam Faruh have also not heard from their children in years.
Forced to flee to Turkey after police demanded their passports, they were unable to bring their two children aged five and six because they didn’t have their own travel documents as yet.
“We haven’t heard the voices of our daughters for the last 1,594 days. My wife and I cry only at night, trying to hide our sorrow from our other kids here with us,” Mr Faruh told Amnesty.
Another father, Mamutjan, now living in South Australia, also spoke to Amnesty – detailing his sorrow about only finding out about his wife and two young childrens’ welfare through coded messages and clues from friends.
“We did not deserve any of this immense suffering. It’s like you lose four or five years of your life just for being Uyghur or being different from the majority of Chinese,” said Mamutjan, who has previously spoken to SBS News about his situation.
Amnesty has urged China to allow children to leave the country and be reunited with their parents and close all political “re-education camps” and release detainees immediately.
“The tragedy of family separation in Xinjiang exposes the inhumanity of China’s efforts to control and indoctrinate Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in the name of ‘countering terrorism’,” Alkan Akad, Amnesty International’s China Researcher said.