Mehmet Tohti is executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a senior fellow with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
At midnight on Dec. 27, Uyghur public speaker Abdulla Abdulhamit was home when armed Turkish police broke into his house. He was arrested and sent to a deportation centre. Despite numerous attempts by other Uyghurs in Turkey to learn his status, the authorities have not released any information and his fate remains unclear. His family and friends fear that he will be sent back to China, where he is likely to be executed.
In Canada, our Parliament has been clear that Beijing is perpetrating a genocide of the Uyghurs, and they voted unanimously to call it that, consistent with the United Nations 1948 Genocide Convention. While some have criticized Liberal cabinet ministers for being absent from the vote, we can be sure that if the Prime Minister had opposed it, the Liberal whip would have persuaded Liberal MPs to vote nay.
But what can Canadians tangibly do to help the Uyghurs? Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi proposed a motion to call on the government to design a program to bring 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to Canada over two years. These are Uyghurs in other countries where they are at daily risk of being arrested and deported back to China to be incarcerated in indoctrination camps – what witnesses described to the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development as concentration camps – where deaths, torture, rapes and forced sterilizations of women are common, and where some detainees are executed without trial.
Nearly two million Uyghurs have spent many months of indoctrination in China’s prison-like facilities before being sent to an actual prison or to factories in other parts of the country as forced labour. Few are sent home. According to Human Rights Watch, China has put half a million Uyghurs in prison after their time in a camp. This is often because they were not sufficiently contrite in renouncing their culture and religion or accepting the political ideology of Xi Jinping Thought. More than a million Uyghur children are already in indoctrination schools or state-run orphanages to learn Chinese and Xi Jinping Thought, many without sufficient food or clothing for cold weather.
Uyghurs who have escaped west to Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries have often left China without documentation, and so have become stateless. Officials and agencies in those countries may be vulnerable to China’s political and financial pressure. Consequently, the Uyghurs are often deprived of services such as health care, schooling, and work or residence permits that would allow them to integrate into the community. It is therefore difficult for them to meet their basic social needs or develop future employment prospects. These Uyghurs are also at serious risk of rendition to China. Thousands have already been sent back only to disappear into the camps and prisons, or worse.
China’s policy of genocide for the Uyghur people is well known around the world. Less known is Beijing’s identification of “nine forbidden countries,” including Turkey and the UAE, where Chinese citizens should not go unless they have an approved reason to be there. These countries are popular destinations for Uyghurs, as they are already home to established communities of that culture. By having an explicit policy, Beijing can try to pressure those countries to deport any Uyghurs. Indeed, it has been reported that the UAE has a Chinese-run detention centre for Uyghurs and other critics of China in Dubai.
The vote on Mr. Zuberi’s Motion-62 will be held in the House of Commons on Feb. 1. The first and second debates in October were strongly supported by MPs of all parties, so success is a good possibility. If passed, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will design a funded program for 2024 to 2026 to bring Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims as refugees from third countries to Canada, where they will be safe and will contribute positively to society as thousands of other Uyghurs have already. We have done this before for Vietnamese, Syrians and others who have become stellar citizens.
Hundreds of Uyghurs will be in the gallery of the House of Commons for the vote. If Motion-62 passes, it will give Canadians the concrete measures that Parliament’s earlier vote on the genocide really demands. And if cabinet ministers vote in favour, they will be giving a strong signal for meaningful action. Canada will be leading the world in supporting Uyghur refugees at dire risk – people such as Abdulla Abdulhamit.