No Place Safe

One Uyghur Man’s Journey from a Chinese Prison to Turkey.

Turkey has long been considered a safe haven for Uyghurs, a Turkic and Muslim minority group that has faced religious persecution in China for more than a century. Uyghur refugees in many other countries risk deportation. But as Turkish-Chinese relations grow stronger, many Uyghurs in Istanbul are afraid the protection they enjoy in Turkey could wane and they could once again face abuses at the hands of the Chinese government.

When I was a child my mother was often dragged out of the house with her hands tied.

They said she was an enemy of the state.

What she definitely was, was educated and not a Communist.

She taught me our true history.

Adel Abdulghufor is a Uyghur Muslim from Kashgar, in what he calls the country of East Turkestan.

Xinjiang

China

Officially, the region is called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is part of China.

With the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Xinjiang came under communist control, after decades of turbulence and outside interference.

In the 1990s, separatist movements there grew after the Soviet Union fell and independent Central Asian Muslim-majority countries emerged.

In recent years China has ramped up its crackdown on separatists and activists in Xinjiang.

About one million Uyghurs are currently believed to be held in Chinese “re-education camps,” where the U.S. accuses China of committing “crimes against humanity” including torture and forced labor.

China says the camps are lifting people out of poverty.

Before it was prisons, now there are camps.

It’s the same.

In 1997 there were protests in Ghulja. For three days we were on the streets.

Adel says helicopters dropped liquid on the protesters.

People's clothing froze. I saw people die on the streets.

Protesters later circulated pictures of frostbitten fingers and toes.

We wanted to be nationalists. We wanted to celebrate our Islamic holidays.

Human rights groups call this day the “Ghulja Incident.”

Authorities broke up the protests and hundreds of people were arrested, injured, or killed.

Thousands more arrests followed.

I hid out for three days and then went to Beijing to get a [fake] passport to flee to Turkmenistan.

I was arrested in the airport as I was boarding the plane and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

They said I was part of a violent separatist group and took me to prison in Kashgar.

For the first three months in prison we were packed into a cold room with no blankets.

When they took us out to use the bathroom they chained us together.

If someone needed ‘to go’ more than once in the day they went in the room so the air was toxic.

After three years I was sent to another prison in Urumqi.

There we slept 30 to a room, with one open toilet that was cleaned out every two or three days.

Chinese prisoners would report Uyghurs for doing anything that appeared religious.

Chinese prisoners would report Uyghurs for doing anything that appeared religious.

One night I started reciting [the Islamic call to prayer] in my sleep.

My friends were too scared to wake me.

They dragged me into the hallway to the large prison door.

I fell down 5-8 steps in the prison yard.

For almost a month I had to spend more than 10 hours a day bent over with a 25 kilo brick hanging from my neck.

When my sentence was over I left the prison. But I was arrested two more times for contacting old friends, so I fled the country.

Adel was smuggled out from Xinjiang to a neighboring province.

China

He met some friends from Yunnan province. Together they walked for 24 hours to Vietnam.

He then went to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos …

… and finally Turkey in 2014.

Turkey has long been one of the safer places for Uyghurs to flee to. Human rights lawyers say less powerful countries feel obligated to deport Uyghurs at China’s urging.

The Turkish people are very positive about the Uyghur people.

Our language is similar and we have the same religion.

says Ibrahim Ergin, a refugee lawyer.

But in the past few years, this dynamic has begun to change as Turkey’s economic ties with China deepen.

Uyghurs searching for family members imprisoned in China and discussing it on the news or social media face problems.

In late 2020, China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey.

No Uyghur people have been deported as far as we know, but they will get arrested and held for up to 12 months if China tells Turkey they are a terrorist or a criminal.

[If Turkey also ratifies the treaty, it could] violate the right to life for many or all of our clients.

Turkey’s foreign minister said it would be “wrong and unfair to say it’s a deal for the extradition of Uyghurs.”

I love Turkey but I can see its relationship with China getting stronger all the time.

It’s getting scary here.

When I was a child my mother was often dragged out of the house with her hands tied.

They said she was an enemy of the state.

What she definitely was, was educated and not a Communist.

She taught me our true history.

Adel Abdulghufor is a Uyghur Muslim from Kashgar, in what he calls the country of East Turkestan.

Xinjiang

Beijing

Kashgar

China

Officially, the region is called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is part of China.

India

With the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Xinjiang came under communist control, after decades of turbulence and outside interference.

In the 1990s, separatist movements there grew after the Soviet Union fell and independent Central Asian Muslim-majority countries emerged.

Kazakhstan

Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikstan

In recent years China has ramped up its crackdown on separatists and activists in Xinjiang.

About one million Uyghurs are currently believed to be held in Chinese “re-education camps,” where the U.S. accuses China of committing “crimes against humanity” including torture and forced labor.

China says the camps are lifting people out of poverty.

Before it was prisons, now there are camps.

It’s the same.

In 1997 there were protests in Ghulja. For three days we were on the streets.

Adel says helicopters dropped liquid on the protesters.

People's clothing froze. I saw people die on the streets.

Protesters later circulated pictures of frostbitten fingers and toes.

We wanted to be nationalists. We wanted to celebrate our Islamic holidays.

Human rights groups call this day the “Ghulja Incident.”

Authorities broke up the protests and hundreds of people were arrested, injured, or killed.

Thousands more arrests followed.

I hid out for three days and then went to Beijing to get a [fake] passport to flee to Turkmenistan.

I was arrested in the airport as I was boarding the plane and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

They said I was part of a violent separatist group and took me to prison in Kashgar.

For the first three months in prison we were packed into a cold room with no blankets.

When they took us out to use the bathroom they chained us together.

If someone needed ‘to go’ more than once in the day they went in the room so the air was toxic.

After three years I was sent to another prison in Urumqi.

There we slept 30 to a room, with one open toilet that was cleaned out every two or three days.

Chinese prisoners would report Uyghurs for doing anything that appeared religious.

A common punishment was to have your head pushed into the toilet.

One night I started reciting [the Islamic call to prayer] in my sleep.

My friends were too scared to wake me.

Two Chinese prisoners yanked me out of the bed by my legs.

They dragged me into the hallway to the large prison door.

I fell down 5-8 steps in the prison yard.

For almost a month I had to spend more than 10 hours a day bent over with a 25 kilo brick hanging from my neck.

When my sentence was over I left the prison. But I was arrested two more times for contacting old friends, so I fled the country.

Adel was smuggled out from Xinjiang to a neighboring province.

China

He met some friends from Yunnan province. Together they walked for 24 hours to Vietnam.

He then went to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos …

… and finally Turkey in 2014.

Turkey has long been one of the safer places for Uyghurs to flee to. Human rights lawyers say less powerful countries feel obligated to deport Uyghurs at China’s urging.

The Turkish people are very positive about the Uyghur people.

Our language is similar and we have the same religion.

says Ibrahim Ergin, a refugee lawyer.

But in the past few years, this dynamic has begun to change as Turkey’s economic ties with China deepen.

Uyghurs searching for family members imprisoned in China and discussing it on the news or social media face problems.

In late 2020, China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey.

No Uyghur people have been deported as far as we know, but they will get arrested and held for up to 12 months if China tells Turkey they are a terrorist or a criminal.

[If Turkey also ratifies the treaty, it could] violate the right to life for many or all of our clients.

Turkey’s foreign minister said it would be “wrong and unfair to say it’s a deal for the extradition of Uyghurs.”

I love Turkey but I can see its relationship with China getting stronger all the time.

It’s getting scary here.

When I was a child my mother was often dragged out of the house with her hands tied.

They said she was an enemy of the state.

What she definitely was, was educated and not a Communist.

She taught me our true history.

Adel Abdulghufor is a Uyghur Muslim from Kashgar, in what he calls the country of East Turkestan.

Mongolia

Urumqi

Xinjiang

Kashgar

Beijing

China

Officially, the region is called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is part of China.

India

With the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Xinjiang came under communist control, after decades of turbulence and outside interference.

In the 1990s, separatist movements there grew after the Soviet Union fell and independent Central Asian Muslim-majority countries emerged.

Kazakhstan

Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikstan

In recent years China has ramped up its crackdown on separatists and activists in Xinjiang.

About one million Uyghurs are currently believed to be held in Chinese “re-education camps,” where the U.S. accuses China of committing “crimes against humanity” including torture and forced labor.

China says the camps are lifting people out of poverty.

Before it was prisons, now there are camps.

It’s the same.

In 1997 there were protests in Ghulja. For three days we were on the streets.

Adel says helicopters dropped liquid on the protesters.

People's clothing froze. I saw people die on the streets.

Protesters later circulated pictures of frostbitten fingers and toes.

We wanted to be nationalists. We wanted to celebrate our Islamic holidays.

Human rights groups call this day the “Ghulja Incident.”

Authorities broke up the protests and hundreds of people were arrested, injured, or killed.

Thousands more arrests followed.

I hid out for three days and then went to Beijing to get a [fake] passport to flee to Turkmenistan.

I was arrested in the airport as I was boarding the plane and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

They said I was part of a violent separatist group and took me to prison in Kashgar.

For the first three months in prison we were packed into a cold room with no blankets.

When they took us out to use the bathroom they chained us together.

If someone needed ‘to go’ more than once in the day they went in the room so the air was toxic.

After three years I was sent to another prison in Urumqi.

There we slept 30 to a room, with one open toilet that was cleaned out every two or three days.

A common punishment was to have your head pushed into the toilet.

Chinese prisoners would report Uyghurs for doing anything that appeared religious.

One night I started reciting [the Islamic call to prayer] in my sleep.

My friends were too scared to wake me.

Two Chinese prisoners yanked me out of the bed by my legs.

They dragged me into the hallway to the large prison door.

I fell down 5-8 steps in the prison yard.

*

For almost a month I had to spend more than 10 hours a day bent over with a 25 kilo brick hanging from my neck.

When my sentence was over I left the prison. But I was arrested two more times for contacting old friends, so I fled the country.

MONGOLIA

XINJIANG

Adel was smuggled out from Xinjiang to a neighboring province. To cross the border, he got out of the car two kilometers away and began to walk.

CHINA

He met some friends from Yunnan province. They gave him clothes, and they walked for 24 hours through forests to Vietnam.

He then went to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos …

… and finally Turkey in 2014.

Turkey has long been one of the safer places for Uyghurs to flee to. Human rights lawyers say less powerful countries feel obligated to deport Uyghurs at China’s urging.

The Turkish people are very positive about the Uyghur people.

Our language is similar and we have the same religion.

says Ibrahim Ergin, a refugee lawyer.

But in the past few years, this dynamic has begun to change as Turkey’s economic ties with China deepen.

Uyghurs searching for family members imprisoned in China and discussing it on the news or social media face problems.

In late 2020, China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey.

No Uyghur people have been deported as far as we know, but they will get arrested and held for up to 12 months if China tells Turkey they are a terrorist or a criminal.

[If Turkey also ratifies the treaty, it could] violate the right to life for many or all of our clients.

Turkey’s foreign minister said it would be “wrong and unfair to say it’s a deal for the extradition of Uyghurs.”

I love Turkey but I can see its relationship with China getting stronger all the time.

It’s getting scary here.

When I was a child my mother was often dragged out of the house with her hands tied.

They said she was an enemy of the state.

What she definitely was, was educated and not a Communist.

She taught me our true history.

Adel Abdulghufor is a Uyghur Muslim from Kashgar, in what he calls the country of East Turkestan.

Kazakhstan

Mongolia

Urumqi

Xinjiang

Beijing

Kashgar

China

Pakistan

Officially, the region is called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is part of China.

India

With the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Xinjiang came under communist control, after decades of turbulence and outside interference.

In the 1990s, separatist movements there grew after the Soviet Union fell and independent Central Asian Muslim-majority countries emerged.

Kazakhstan

Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikstan

In recent years China has ramped up its crackdown on separatists and activists in Xinjiang.

About one million Uyghurs are currently believed to be held in Chinese “re-education camps,” where the U.S. accuses China of committing “crimes against humanity” including torture and forced labor.

China says the camps are lifting people out of poverty.

Before it was prisons, now there are camps.

It’s the same.

In 1997 there were protests in Ghulja. For three days we were on the streets.

Adel says helicopters dropped liquid on the protesters.

People's clothing froze. I saw people die on the streets.

Protesters later circulated pictures of frostbitten fingers and toes.

We wanted to be nationalists. We wanted to celebrate our Islamic holidays.

Human rights groups call this day the “Ghulja Incident.”

Authorities broke up the protests and hundreds of people were arrested, injured, or killed.

Thousands more arrests followed.

I hid out for three days and then went to Beijing to get a [fake] passport to flee to Turkmenistan.

I was arrested in the airport as I was boarding the plane and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

They said I was part of a violent separatist group and took me to prison in Kashgar.

For the first three months in prison we were packed into a cold room with no blankets.

When they took us out to use the bathroom they chained us together.

If someone needed ‘to go’ more than once in the day they went in the room so the air was toxic.

After three years I was sent to another prison in Urumqi.

There we slept 30 to a room, with one open toilet that was cleaned out every two or three days.

A common punishment was to have your head pushed into the toilet.

Chinese prisoners, working as informants, would report Uyghurs for doing anything that appeared religious.

One night I started reciting [the Islamic call to prayer] in my sleep.

My friends were too scared to wake me.

Two Chinese prisoners yanked me out of the bed by my legs.

They dragged me into the hallway to the large prison door.

I fell down 5-8 steps in the prison yard.

*

* “This person broke the rules”

For almost a month I had to spend more than 10 hours a day bent over with a 25 kilo brick hanging from my neck.

When my sentence was over I left the prison. But I was arrested two more times for contacting old friends, so I fled the country.

Xinjiang

Adel was smuggled out from Xinjiang to a neighboring province. To cross the border, he got out of the car two kilometers away and began to walk.

China

Pakistan

India

He met some friends from Yunnan province. They gave him clothes, and they walked for 24 hours through forests to Vietnam.

He then went to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos …

… and finally Turkey in 2014.

Turkey has long been one of the safer places for Uyghurs to flee to. Human rights lawyers say less powerful countries feel obligated to deport Uyghurs at China’s urging.

The Turkish people are very positive about the Uyghur people.

Our language is similar and we have the same religion.

says Ibrahim Ergin, a refugee lawyer.

But in the past few years, this dynamic has begun to change as Turkey’s economic ties with China deepen.

Uyghurs searching for family members imprisoned in China and discussing it on the news or social media face problems.

In late 2020, China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey.

[If Turkey also ratifies the treaty, it could] violate the right to life for many or all of our clients.

No Uyghur people have been deported as far as we know, but they will get arrested and held for up to 12 months if China tells Turkey they are a terrorist or a criminal.

Turkey’s foreign minister said it would be “wrong and unfair to say it’s a deal for the extradition of Uyghurs.”

I love Turkey but I can see its relationship with China getting stronger all the time.

It’s getting scary here.