China accused of intimidating Uighur refugees in Europe

Sallie Anderson

China rejects it, however Uighur exiles who ran away to EU states state they are still being terrorised by threatening phone-calls, SMS-es, and other types of what some security services have actually called”refugee-espionage”

One such call, from a masked number, began a day in July 2019 when Yashar Yalkun, a Uighur activist and Belgian asylum holder, was having fun with his infant boy at home in Antwerp, a Belgian city.

  • EU Council president and former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel (Image:

It was his mom and sibling in China, whom he had actually not spoken with in 3 years, on the line, however they were not contacting us to want him well.

“They begged me to stop whatever I was doing or something horrible would happen to them,” he informed EUobserver.

“I knew that Chinese state security had kidnapped my family and was trying to use them against me, so I told them: ‘You can kill them if you want. I’ll never stop fighting for our freedom’,” he stated.

Yalkun spoke up on behalf of the 3,00 0 or two Uighurs living in Belgium in his capability as president of the Belgian Uighur Association (BUA), an NGO.

The Majority Of of them originate from Main Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, however about 450 of them originate from what Uighurs call East Turkistan and what China calls its Xinjiang province.

And it was those Chinese Uighur households which were now being targeted the exact same method that he had actually been in July, Yalkun kept in mind.

” I understand of about 20 current cases [in Belgium],” he informed thiswebsite


” I do not understand how they [Chinese security services] get our private contact number, since generally they’re rather hard to discover,” he stated.

” We likewise understand we have [Chinese] moles and spies in our neighborhoods, however we can’t determine them,” headded


Uighurs like him have actually run away to Europe after more than a years of Chinese persecution in Xinjiang on premises that some of them positioned a separatist or terrorist hazard.

China has actually likewise sent to prison approximately 1 million Uighurs in what The New York Times, a United States paper, just recently called “the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II”.

The United States has actually enforced sanctions on Chinese business connected to Uighur required labour in Xinjiang, while the EU has actually advised China to let its diplomats go there to see what was actually occurring.

For its part, China rejects any misdeed.

“Terrorism and extremism are the common enemies of humanity, and counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation are the common responsibilities of the international community,” its embassy to Belgium stated.

“At the same time, China is opposed to linking terrorism to specific nationalities or religions, which is … a generally accepted norm for the international community,” it added.

It likewise rejected Yalkun’s account, stating: “The so-called Chinese surveillance of the Uighurs in Belgium, and the sending of threatening text messages and phone calls to the Uighurs are completely untrue, and they are pure rumours and slanders”.

“This is another fake news against China made by people with ulterior motives,” the Chinese embassy stated.

Belgian authorities declined to comment.

Chinese embassy to Belgium asked Uighurs, in 2015, to come and gather a strange parcel, Yalkun stated (Image: Google).

EU-wide problem

However for its part, the World Uighur Congress (WUC), an NGO in Munich, Germany, which represents the Uighur diaspora in international online forum, likewise stated the problem was real and was much larger than Belgium alone.

“Uighurs living abroad, whether it’s in Europe or other parts of the world, have all faced similar reprisals from China,” WUC spokesperson Zumretay Arkin informed EUobserver.

“The European countries with a large Uighur population are: Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. China uses several different tactics to harass and intimidate Uighurs in these countries,” she stated.

“It’s difficult to quantify these incidents … However, they are significant and not isolated and the level of harassment is getting bigger,” she added.

” Chinese authorities force Uighurs in [China] to call their family members abroad and ask to stop their advocacy,” she stated.

“Activists are also often targeted and intimidated by unidentified persons, mostly of Chinese origin. They will take photos sneakily on their phones, disrupt public events, and even send death threats,” she added.

“Nowhere is safe for Uighurs. Even in the most democratic countries, these incidents keep happening. China’s long arm is reaching further,” she stated.

The Swedish state security, the Säkerhetspolisen [Säpo], has actually even created a technical term for what China has actually been doing to Uighurs and its other political exiles in Europe: “flyktingspionage”, or “refugee-espionage”.

“China’s intelligence activities also involve espionage targeting of regime critics and the Tibetan and Uighur communities in Sweden,” the Säpo said in its 2019 report.

“These activities are seen by China as steps towards protecting its territorial integrity from perceived threats and protecting the Communist Party,” itadded


The 2019 Säpo report did not provide examples.

However in one current case in Strasbourg, France, in 2015, 2 Chinese gatekeeper camouflaged as trainees interrupted a conference on Uighur rights, Vanessa Frangville, a French scholastic who arranged the event, just recently informed The Atlantic, a United States publication.

In another case in 2017, Swedish authorities accused a Chinese guy impersonating a reporter of refugee-espionage

In a 3rd case in Germany in 2016, China imprisoned a Chinese refugee’s brother or sisters after he had actually criticised the Communist Party in an op-ed in German paper Deutsche Welle and in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

Some EU states were much better than others in securing Uighur refugees, the WUC’s Arkin stated.

“Germany and Sweden have set a precedent by issuing a moratorium on sending back Uighur refugees and asylum seekers to China,” she kept in mind.

However other “regional authorities [in Europe] should take these occurrences more seriously and provide much better defense … to their own [adopted] residents on their area,” Arkin stated.

The BUA’s Yalkun stated Belgian authorities had actually been useful, to a degree.

When China, in 2015, welcomed Uighur homeowners in the nation to come and gather a strange parcel at its Belgian embassy in Brussels, a Belgian security contact tipped off Yalkun and others not to go, for example, he informed EUobserver.

However its Uighur exiles likewise felt pull down by Belgium over an event in 2015, he stated.

When a Uighur female and her 4 children, last June, went to Belgium’s Beijing embassy to get visas to join her other half, Abdulhamid Tursun, a Uighur refugee in Brussels, Belgian diplomats let Chinese authorities come in to the embassy substance and drag them out.

When Tursun consulted with Joseph Bockaert, the director of consular affairs at the Belgian foreign ministry in Brussels, he was informed: “We [Belgium] do not wish to be in dispute with China”, according to a report in The New York Times.

And when Yalkun called the Belgian foreign ministry to attempt to assist Tursun, Yalkun was likewise informed: “We [Belgium] can’t provide you excessive assistance, since it’s China and they’re too strong”, Yalkun informed EUobserver.

Asylum, consular affairs, and security are national authorities under EU treaties, indicating EU organizations have little to state on how member states managed private claims of”refugee-espionage”


Uighur women in China generally use their hair long (Image: Sergio Tittarini).

EU services?

However the WUC, for one, would like to see an EU-level method, with European visa restrictions and possession freezes troubled Chinese authorities considered guilty of refugee-abuse, Arkin stated.

“For this specific reason, European countries must implement firmer policies, legislation, such as Magnitsky-style laws,” she stated, describing targeted human rights sanctions, called after a late Russian activist, which are currently being utilized in Canada, the United States, and a handful of EU states.

The EU foreign service just recently did take a joint method to the Xinjiang detention camp reports in China, by proposing a fact-finding objective by the 27 member states’ ambassadors to see and go what was actually occurring there.

Conversations about the journey with China were “ongoing”, the EU service informed this website, however they were”effectively paused for the time being, in light of the coronavirus situation”


Nevertheless, the reports of Xinjiang human rights abuses were “credible” and were “gravely concerning,” an EU foreign service spokesperson stated.

“Nobody disputes the right of any country to take legitimate measures to combat terrorism and ensure security,” she kept in mind.

“[But] to our understanding, the policies used in Xinjiang appear out of proportion to the specified goal of battling versus terrorism and extremism,” the EU spokesperson stated.

Human Rights View (HRW), a New York-based NGO, likewise advised EU Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to increase pressure on Uighur rights when they held video-talks with Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang on Monday (22 June).

“EU leaders can’t just repeat the same lines and hope that they will somehow prompt different behaviour by Chinese authorities,” HRW’s EU affairs director in Brussels, Lotte Leicht, stated on Friday.

Gulchehra Hoja, a senior Uighur reporter with Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US-funded news firm, likewise stated the EU needs to be asking difficult concerns.

A current RFA investigation suggested that Uighur women in Xianjing detention camps were being required to cut their hair, which they generally use long, in order to provide Chinese wig-making business, she kept in mind.

The EU must be asking China “where are the hair supplies coming from for those wig companies?”, Hoja informed EUobserver.

” If the prisoner-of-war camp are closed and people are ‘complimentary’ like the CCP [Communist Party of China] declares then where are their children? Why are the children still in the orphanages therefore called ‘boarding schools’?”, Hoja added.

“Why are the Uighurs abroad still not able to contact their families back home?,” Hoja, who lives in the United States, however whose family in China was jailed in 2018 due to her work, stated.

” When are you [China] going to enable them to interact generally, easily?,” she stated.

Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang (l) with former EU Council president Donald Tusk at last EU-China top (Image:

Hard concerns

However with United States-China geopolitics, coronavirus, and the Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations likewise taking the EU-China top program, it stayed to be seen if either Michel or von der Leyen will ask Li hard concerns, or any concerns, on Uighurs.

When EU foreign relations primary Josep Borrell last held video-talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, in June, Borrell spoke just in death of “the situation in Xinjiang” in his press rundown.

When former EU Council president Donald Tusk met Li at the last EU-China top in May 2019, Tusk discussed Uighurs in a “private meeting” in the margins of the event, the Reuters news agency stated at the time.

And when asked if Uighurs were on the program of Monday’s top, Michel’s office stated that was still unpredictable, as of Friday.

However Uighur rights did not show up in an off-the-record rundown in between Michel’s authorities and Brussels-based reporters on Sunday, an EU official stated.

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