Seven acrobats belonging to China's Muslim Uyghur minority and performing on a Lunar New Year tour in Canada have sought permission to remain in Canada as refugees, RFA's Uyghur service reports.
The seven, part of a 12-member troupe, had performed in Toronto at the Great Light of Chinese New Year Spring Festival from Jan. 22-26. They were scheduled for two performances in Ottawa at the Lansdowne Park Center from Jan. 27-29.
Because of low attendance at the first show in Ottawa, the second was cancelled and the performers given free time for shopping and sightseeing — ; during which time seven acrobats vacated their hotel.
"They contacted me while they were in Toronto and asked for my help before they had come to the decision to escape in Ottawa," one Uyghur man who helped the acrobats defect told RFA. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
"I drove the seven Uyghurs, five men and two women, back to Toronto and escorted them to an immigration office there on Monday. They didn't have their passports because the troupe leader had held onto their passports and air tickets," he said.
The seven acrobats filled out the paperwork to apply for refugee status, the source said. "Their refugee claims were based on serious human rights violations that occurred in the Uyghur Autonomous Region during the 1990s. Their conditions have deteriorated every year, especially since Sept. 11," the man said.
Phone calls to the immigration authorities in Toronto during business hours went unreturned.
In an interview with RFA's Uyghur service, one of the acrobats, who asked not to be named, rejected allegations by China's top cadre in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Wang Lequan that the troupe had been manipulated by overseas Uyghur separatists.
"We don't think we have met any ethnic separatists here, and we don't know where those separatists live," he said. "Seven of us decided to stay here of our own free will... In Canada, we felt the existence of freedom and justice."
"We had difficulty in finding our traditional food so we called some friends who live here. They hosted us with our ethnic meals, and we asked them — ; 'If we wish to stay here, can you help?' After that, we went back to our hotel rooms. We had a talk among ourselves. Then all of us made our decision," he said. "After making this decision, we said to ourselves, 'Thinking of our children's future and our own future, we will stay here. But we have to start from zero — ; we must work hard.'"
"We are professionals. Some people think we have involved in political activities. We have never been involved in any political activities. Because we have been participating in our profession since we were very young, we have not been involved in other things."
The five Uyghurs remaining in the troupe — ; which includes record-breaking high-rope walker Adili Uxuer — ; postponed their return flight to China, apparently hoping the seven would return. They ultimately flew back to Beijing and then Urumqi Feb. 4, the source said.