Authorities in China have expanded a recall of passports from Uyghurs residing within the northwest region of Xinjiang to include members of the ethnic groups throughout the country, according to sources.
Since October 2016, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Xinjiang has issued a series of notices ordering Uyghur residents of Changji Hui (in Chinese, Changji Huizu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Manas (Manasi) county, the seat of Kumul (Hami) prefecture, the capital Urumqi’s Midong district, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps administrated city of Shihezi to hand over their passports.
According to the notices, if the passports were not submitted by a specific deadline, they would become “invalid,” and “further action will be taken” against the holder.
In no circumstance was a timetable provided for how long the passports would be held by the authorities and, according to information from local PSBs, the campaign to recall the travel documents was limited to residents of Xinjiang.
But sources recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that amid heightened security measures surrounding the 19th annual Communist Party Congress, held in Beijing Oct. 18-24, authorities were now extending the recall to include passports from Uyghurs in all parts of China.
A young Uyghur man, who was enrolled at a well-known university outside of Xinjiang, but has since relocated to an Asian country after fleeing China through Hong Kong, said authorities issued notices after the Congress ordering all Uyghur students to hand their passports over to their schools or local police stations.
Uyghur students were already under “very close watch,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, but when his parents were forced to ask him to return home and he later learned that his father had been detained by police, he “began to worry about my own safety.”
When the young man received a call from his hometown police requesting that he urgently turn in his passport, he decided to leave the country.
“In the past, they have confiscated passports of Uyghurs in Xinjiang in order to ensure they couldn’t travel outside of China, but now this policy has extended to Uyghurs living outside of Xinjiang,” he said.
“As long as you are Uyghur, regardless of where you reside, you must submit your passport to the authorities.”
The young man said he realized that “the situation became even worse” after this year’s Congress, and “worried I would suffer the same fate as others.”
“As soon as they imposed the collection process, I made the decision to leave—I gave up everything that I had in China,” he said.
“I knew that my parents would be punished for my actions, but these sacrifices had to be made. Also, it hadn’t been easy for me to enter such a prestigious university, but I thought my personal safety was most important, even though I was very worried about my family.”
The young man said that friends of his who are working or studying in other Chinese cities outside of Xinjiang told him they had also received orders to turn in their passports, and were fearful that they might be targeted by police.
An officer who answered the phone at the Dao Dian police station near Beijing Normal University, where a large number of Uyghur students are enrolled, said passport holders from Xinjiang “must hand it in at their nearest local police station.”
“People designated as being a part of a ‘special group’ must submit their passports to the appointed authorities,” he said.
“If they are at university, they must hand it in to their university authorities.”
When asked whether passports had to be sent to local authorities in Xinjiang, the officer said “it all depends on the circumstances.”
“First you must register your passport for examination, then the action to be taken will be decided accordingly,” he said.
“If there is no issue, you can get it back when needed. But for those who don’t hand it in, they won’t be able to use it to cross the border … This is meant to target key individuals. It has to do with the implementation of regional government policies.”
The officer said that Uyghurs who do not hand in their passports “will be sent back to Xinjiang.”
“People who don’t want to register definitely have some kind of problem, in which case they face the likelihood of being sent home,” he said.
The officer was unable to provide an explanation for why the passport recall had been extended to include Uyghurs outside of Xinjiang.
Other sources told RFA that Uyghurs living overseas have also been affected by the recall, and have encountered restrictions when trying to renew their passports at Chinese embassies and consulates.
The recall has not only prevented Uyghurs from visiting other countries, but also limited their ability to study and conduct business abroad, they said.
In some cases, Uyghurs living abroad reported that authorities have threatened their families back home in a bid to pressure them to return, though they fear that they will not be permitted to travel again if they comply.
Many Uyghurs who return home from abroad under pressure from China have been arrested or “disappeared” upon arrival at the airport.
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA's Uyghur Service and translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.