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Chinese officials are reported to have ordered Uyghurs studying in schools outside of China to return to their hometowns by May 20.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) says news of the order came from sources in the Xinjiang area of northwest China and in Egypt. They said that family members of some students are being detained until they return home.
RFA and VOA are each part of the U.S. government-supported Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group in China and Central Asia. Most live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Chinese officials reportedly launched the campaign in the Xinjiang area at the end of January.
One Uyghur student studying at Al-Azhar University in Egypt told RFA that some students who returned home from Egypt seem to have simply disappeared. “We haven’t been able to contact any of them,” said the student, who spoke with RFA on the condition of anonymity.
“There is a dark cloud hanging over every Uyghur student’s head,” the student added. “All of them are very depressed. They are really scared now.”
Another Uyghur student in Egypt said that some students who returned to Xinjiang were jailed after their arrival.
Police detained two sisters after they were called back to Xinjiang’s Hotan area, the student said.
The older sister was reportedly sentenced to three years in jail. The younger sister was sentenced to a political re-education program.
The student added that his own father has been detained for the past two months. “They are forcing us to do this by locking up the parents of each student to make them go back,” he added.
Some Uyghur students studying in Egypt have said they will stay there until the school term ends. Others have reportedly tried to avoid the order by fleeing to Turkey. However, they are being stopped at the Turkish border and denied entry, other sources said.
Political views investigated
Police and officials in southern Xinjiang told RFA that the campaign is an effort to investigate the political ideas of the students ordered home.
A police officer in a village of Peyziwat’s Barin County said that the aim is to “identify their political and ideological stance, and then educate them about our country’s laws and current developments. We have a directive from the top,” he added.
Those ordered home to Barin township include Uyghurs studying in Turkey, France, Australia, and the United States, party officials in three villages told RFA.
“We have five students studying abroad: two Chinese and three non-Chinese,” the party secretary of one village said. “So far we have brought back two Uyghurs. One of them was studying in America, and the other one was in Turkey.”
Another party secretary said that three people from his village are now studying overseas: One was in the United States and two were in Turkey.
One girl studying in Turkey has yet to return home, the party official said.
“Right now we are talking to her parents about this matter,” he said. “We are telling them she should come back within the next two weeks, otherwise things won’t be good for any of us.”
A government official has been ordered to talk to students’ parents about the new policy, he said.
Bai Kecheng is chairman of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in Egypt. The association is a program of the Chinese consulate. He told RFA he did not know about the orders for Uyghurs to return home.
“The consulate doesn’t know about this either,” he said. “[The orders] may have come from Xinjiang local authorities.”
Uyghur restaurants and stores near Egypt’s Al-Azhar University are closing as the students leave for home, sources told RFA.
“It has been at least a month now that our business has been slow,” one restaurant owner said.
“Our food was consumed mostly by the Uyghur students, since the locals don’t really like it. Our business has suffered great losses due to the lack of students here,” he said.
This report came from the Uyghur language service of Radio Free Asia. It was adapted for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
source - n. a person, book, etc., that gives information
anonymity - n. the quality or state of being unknown to most people
scared - adj. afraid of something
stance - n. a publicly stated opinion
consulate - n. the building where a consul lives and works