Thu, Jun 20, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Belgium looks for missing Uighur family in China

AFP, BEIJING

A Belgian diplomat was on Tuesday expected to travel to China’s Xinjiang region to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.

The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.

Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.

“I am worried about their safety,” he said. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”

Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.

“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon (潘嘉偉), China researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he said.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Horiyat Abdulla, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of last month to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.

Tursun said that his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.

They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he said.

“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”

The embassy offered to accompany Abdulla and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.

An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.

In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the ministry spokesman said.

A few days later, Abdulla and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.

Reynders on Monday told the Belga news agency that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.

“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he said.

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