Fire Victims Face Claim Hurdles

Uyghur businessmen fear unequal treatment in compensation for lost goods.
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Chinese fire fighters taking part in a drill in Hami city, northwest China's Xinjiang region, July 8, 2008.
Chinese fire fighters taking part in a drill in Hami city, northwest China's Xinjiang region, July 8, 2008.

More than 100 Uyghur businessmen who lost their goods in a devastating warehouse fire in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region are facing a “complicated” process to claim compensation, the warehouse owners and businessmen said.

The businessmen have been promised only 20 percent of the cost of the goods destroyed, but even then they face bureaucratic delays in getting the compensation, they said.  

Though total losses in the Oct. 8 fire at No. 1 Warehouse in Atush City in northwestern Xinjiang region were estimated at between U.S. $5-6 million, warehouse owners have promised to pay only seven million yuan (U.S. $1.1 million), the warehouse manager, Teng Hui, told RFA’s Uyghur service.

And not all of this amount has yet been paid, he said.

“We have resolved some cases for now, but progress will be slow,” he said, adding, “The issue is very complicated.”

The businessmen who lost their goods may have also been insured by government carriers, but “they want to get their money from us,” he said.

Because the warehouse was located in a remote region, its contents were destroyed before emergency fire services could arrive, sources said.

“The financial loss was about U.S. $5-6 million,” one warehouse worker told RFA, adding that the fire’s cause was still unknown.

“The investigation is still going on,” he said.

Unequal treatment

Contacted by RFA, several of the affected businessmen said their goods were insured by the Chinese government. But some expressed concern that they would not be fairly compensated, citing earlier cases of unequal Chinese treatment of Uyghurs.

“The Chinese government has always used a double standard and has never treated Uyghurs equally,” agreed Memet Tursun, a Uyghur living in Canada.

“A few years ago, there was an accident, and more than 20 Uyghur businessmen were burned to death in a bus, but Chinese insurance companies refused to compensate their families,” he said.

In contrast, the Chinese government fully compensated more than 3,000 Chinese business owners after the Dehui International Plaza burned down in the regional capital Urumqi in 2008, and then rebuilt the plaza itself.

“I think that there is nothing to be hoped for from Chinese insurance companies,” Tursun said.

“Uyghur rights are not protected.”

Uyghurs, who number more than 16 million, constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang often chafe at Chinese rule and complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration into the region and what they call the unfair allocation of resources to Chinese residents.

Reported by Rukiye Turdush for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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