Han Migrant Influx Threatens Uyghur Farms

2013-03-11
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A Chinese woman works at her strawberry greenhouse farm in Hami, Xinjiang, March 3, 2011.
AFP China Xtra

More than 2,000 Han Chinese streamed into Xinjiang on the first train to arrive in the regional capital after the Chinese New Year festival last month as part of a growing influx of migrants who native Uyghur farmers say are greatly straining area resources.

On Feb. 21, 2,100 Han from Chongqing city disembarked from train L1133 at the Xinjiang capital Urumqi’s train station ahead of taking up jobs at farms in the north and south of the region, according to the official Xinjiang Metropolitan Daily News.

The growing number of migrants has led to Uyghurs increasingly losing land and job opportunities to their Han counterparts who benefit from generous government subsidies, Uyghur farmers in Xinjiang told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

They said that government incentives for Han Chinese include grants for seeds and fertilizers, free farm equipment and other opportunities to defray the costs of farming that Uyghurs are denied access to.

“Han Chinese immigrants have the advantage of being able to convert unused land into farmland because the government pays for all of their agricultural expenses. That is why they have more land,” said one Uyghur farmer from Kashgar who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Farm equipment is expensive and Uyghur farmers have no money to purchase it.”

He said that Uyghur farmers are too poor to even consider expanding their farmland.

“Let alone an expansion, we can’t even work on the land that we own because we have no money—no subsidies from the government,” the Kashgar farmer said.

“Even if we had money, we would not be allowed to expand like the Han Chinese.”

Because Uyghurs farmers are too poor to work their existing land, he said, many of them are forced to sell it off to Hans who have moved to the area.

Resource war

A Uyghur farmer from Shayar county in Aksu prefecture said that there is a big difference in the average size of farms owned by Han farmers and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

He said that most large scale Uyghurs farmers owned no more than 25 mu (4 acres) compared to 300 mu (50 acres) belonging to some small Han Chinese farmers.

Another Uyghur from Aksu said that local authorities had been allocating resources to Han farmers, giving them an advantage beyond subsidies.

“The government is not only refusing to subsidize our farm equipment, but they are also cutting our access to water resources,” the farmer said.

He said that Chinese immigrants had “surrounded” a rice farm in his village and opened additional rice farms.

“The government cut the water for us, but not for the Han Chinese. We had no water so we couldn’t use the rice farm. But the Han are given water and have squeezed into our land.”

Expropriation

Another Uyghur from Hoten city said that Uyghurs who own farms near the city are often forced to sell their land which might otherwise be expropriated by the government as part of a “development policy” without compensation.

In China, all land is owned either collectively or by the state and is therefore subject to expropriation with compensation and a relocation subsidy, although residents often say that they receive nothing in exchange for their land.

“We were forced to sell our land. Because of the ‘kaifa’ policy, the government can take it over without any compensation if it is close to the city,” the Hoten farmer said, referring to the policy of expropriation in the name of development.

“This year they have a new law, so maybe they will stop forcibly taking land, but it was not implemented here yet. So I was afraid and sold my land to a Han Chinese.”

The farmer said that Chinese farmers don’t have to worry about having their land expropriated, even if it is close to development areas, because they are “in good with the government” and can afford to “urbanize the land in a very short time.”

“The government is not going to take over land from them to urbanize.”

No subsidies

The party chief of Saykol village in Aksu prefecture, named Isak, confirmed that Uyghurs were not being offered subsidies by the Chinese government in his area.

“It’s no surprise that there are no subsidies available for Uyghur farmers. It has always been like that,” he said, before refusing to answer any additional questions.

A Uyghur businessman who had recently visited Canada told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the combination of a large Han migration and an ongoing policy of “discrimination” by the Chinese government in the area had “intensified segregation and the loss of land by Uyghurs.”

“It is not clear what percentage of Uyghur farmers have lost their land and have become landless immigrants, but the current situation of Uyghur farmers is dire,” said the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Seventy-eight percent of Uyghurs [in Xinjiang] are farmers, so imagine the poverty they must endure.”

Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness in Xinjiang despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.