Turkey repatriating Uighurs to China via third countries - Telegraph

Turkey is helping China repatriate Uighur Muslims by sending them to third countries from which they can be extradited by Beijing, the Telegraph reported on Sunday. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan portrays himself as a protector of Muslims across the world, and an estimated 50,000 Uighurs have sought refuge in Turkey from repression in China.

Around 1.5 million Uighurs are thought to be held in concentration camps across China.

But an increasing number of Uighurs in Turkey are fearful of China’s reach, and some activists argue that Ankara’s growing economic dependence on Beijing is compromising its ability to withstand Chinese pressure and to protect Uighurs, The Telegraph said.

The Telegraph documented several cases in which Turkey had sent Uighurs to countries like Tajikistan, where it is easier for China to secure their extradition. 

İbrahim Ergin, a lawyer who specialises in deportation cases, told the Telegraph that Turkey will not extradite Uighurs directly to China. 

“So they [China] try to make their lives as miserable as they can, and get them sent to other countries where possible,” he said. “As China and Turkey’s relations have got better, it’s the Uighurs who have lost.” 

A faltering Turkish economy and poor relations with Europe have brought Turkey closer to China. Chinese corporations have invested billions in developing Turkish infrastructure as a key part of Beijing's Belt & Road investment strategy, and Beijing aims to double investments to more than $6 billion in Turkey by the end of 2021.

Ismael Cengiz, a prominent Uighur activist in Turkey, told the Telegraph that Beijing’s investment has come at a cost for Uighurs. “There is so much money at stake, our cause is only second to that,” he said.

Though publicly supportive of the Uighur plight, Ankara is obliged by bilateral agreements with China’s Justice Ministry to investigate Chinese complaints against individuals.

The Telegraph said this has resulted in scores of Uighurs spending months in detention and deportation centres in Turkey without charge over Chinese judicial demands.

“There are threats, and they are systematic, “Cengiz said. “[China] want us to think they can get us anywhere.”