Authorities in Kazakhstan have declared the 'green card' residence permits of some 250 Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent invalid following an investigation of the officials who issued them, prompting fears of repatriation and detention, sources in the emigre community told RFA on Thursday.
The move follows the detention in July of the immigration director of Kazakhstan's Jambul region for accepting "additional fees" in relation to green cards.
Now, some 250 ethnic Kazakhs from northwestern China could face imminent repatriation because the authorities have invalided green cards found to have been issued under his corrupt system, sources in the country told RFA.
"These 250 people are ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang, and they have written to the Kazakhstan premier asking for him to reinstate their residence permits," the source said. "At the time, they went to the Jambul immigration department, gave their fingerprints and electronic signature, so why are their green cards now considered invalid?"
"Several immigration department officials have been detained, and are currently under criminal investigation," the source said. "Now, these 250 people will be forcibly repatriated, and all because of corrupt officials."
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of ethnic minorities, and Kazakhs say the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang is now targeting Kazakhs across the region, especially those with any overseas connections.
The Kazakh source, who asked not to be identified, said many Chinese nationals in the country live in terror of being sent back.
"In the open letter, they explain that they face immediate incarceration if they are sent back [to China]," he said. "They also say that a lot of Kazakhs are having black bags put over their heads and being taken off who-knows-where as soon as they arrive at the Khorgas border checkpoint."
Sources told RFA in August that border guards are detaining ethnic Kazakhs arriving back in the country with permanent residence cards or passports issued by Kazakhstan, with an estimated 1,500 held in a "political study center" in Yining city, capital of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.
A Kazakh woman in her forties identified only by a single name, Gulimula, was detained at the Khorgas border crossing, four years after she emigrated to Kazakhstan, her husband said at the time. The whole family hold "green cards" for Kazakhstan.
Gulimula was detained after re-entering China with her husband and three children, and taken to the "political study center" in Yining, he said, adding that the ostensible purpose of such "study centers" is to target extremism.
'Visas are not fake'
A second Kazakh source said many Chinese passport-holders are unsure whether they will be able to apply for visas to remain, instead.
"All 250 of the green cards issued by the immigration department in Jambul have been revoked as fakes," the source said. "They are saying that he took bribes for them and handed out fake visas."
"In actual fact, these aren't fake visas, because people have been able to cross the border with them with no problem until now; if they are fake, then that's the Kazakhstan government's problem," he said.
Some 200,000 Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports and permanent residence cards for Kazakhstan were told to hand in their Kazakhstan-issued residency cards to Chinese police "for safekeeping," although sources later said officials in some parts of Xinjiang were backpedaling on the policy.
Earlier this month, authorities in Xinjiang detained more than 50 members of the Kazakh ethnic group after they watched video of a world-class boxing match featuring welterweight Kanat Islam. Coverage been banned by government censors amid a crackdown on ethnic Kazakhs migrating to neighboring Kazakhstan or maintaining family or cultural ties there.
Kanat Islam, who formerly held a Chinese passport, was a bronze welterweight medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as the 2006 Asian Games. He became a citizen of Kazakhstan in 2011.
Official figures show that there are around 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, mostly concentrated in and around the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.
China has previously welcomed Kazakhs who wished to relocate from Kazakhstan, but many Kazakhs with Chinese nationality are now heading back in the other direction, with their numbers peaking at nearly 38,000 in 2006.
The Kazakhstan population has seen an uneven growth over the last 25 years, according to the state-backed Astana Times website.
It blamed the outward migration of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Germans for a fall in population from 17.5 million in 1991 to just 14.9 million in 1999.
"The population ... has now reached 18,014,200 people," the paper said, without elaborating on the role played by immigration.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.