Seven ethnic minority Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports are in hiding in Turkey after their political asylum applications were rejected by Kazakhstan, with two others now incommunicado after being repatriated to China from Egypt, sources told RFA on Monday.
The Kazakhs were among some 200 ethnic minorities with Chinese passports targeted last month by Egypt's secret police in an operation activists said was requested by Beijing.
More than 200 students, many of them religious students at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic University, have been detained since July 4, rounded up in restaurants or at their homes, with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service at the time.
A Kazakh source currently in Turkey told RFA on Monday that he was among a group of seven ethnic Kazakhs who had fled Cairo once the crackdown began, for fear of being repatriated to China, where authorities are targeting ethnic minority groups with overseas links.
They are currently applying for visas to travel to Kazakhstan, on the grounds of needing political asylum, the man said.
"We submitted our visa application at the Kazakhstan embassy in Egypt to a visa official called Yelshat," he said, adding that the group had fled after the applications were rejected.
He said four other Kazakh students have been incommunicado since being repatriated to China in the crackdown.
A second Kazakh source said the four included two brothers who had been studying at al-Azhar, but had returned home because of threats to their parents back home in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in China's troubled western region of Xinjiang.
"There were two brothers studying in Egypt, but they had no choice, because their parents were being terrorized [by the authorities in China] so they went back to Xinjiang," the source said.
"I was in touch with them the whole time they were traveling home via Turkey, but I haven't heard anything from them since they got back to Xinjiang," he said. "I don't know where they are."
Blanket controls on Uyghurs
Shih Chien Yu, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong's Chu Hai College, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party regards any Xinjiang residents with overseas connections, including grown children studying overseas or relatives with overseas passports, as a potential security risk.
"China is very worried about a flow of [ethnic minority Muslim] Uyghur soldiers coming back to the country after being in Syria," Shih told RFA in a recent interview.
"So they are stepping up blanket controls over Uyghurs overseas."
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile group World Uyghur Congress, said Beijing is extending its oppression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups overseas under the banner of fighting "terrorism."
"They have oppressed [minorities] to the point where violent clashes occur, and these forms of resistance also result in further oppression," Raxit said.
"Sometimes oppressed people are just shot dead, and some are on the run," he said. "But China uses extreme and violent forms of oppression, and there is a lack of transparency around which terrorist acts are at issue."
Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently announced that the country wouldn't tolerate "anti-China" activities on its soil, prompting concerns that Uyghur activists and pro-independence campaigners who have long sheltered there will no longer be safe.
"Will Turkey support China’s security by approving China’s corrupt requests, abiding by the Chinese government’s unlawful terms and conditions?" exile Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said in a recent statement.
"Or will it take a path that utilizes the Turks’ commonalities with the Uyghurs – language, culture and history – to play the role of a bridge, showing China the root of its “security” issues and stopping China’s oppression of Uyghurs ... through diplomatic means?" she said.
She said the activities of Uyghurs in Turkey represent the group's struggle for human rights and self-determination, and are "in compliance with international law and the laws of the states where they reside."
Kadeer, who is aligned with a non-violent campaign for an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang, added: "We worry that statements like these will embolden Chinese authorities ... to carry out even more violent oppressive activities."
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.