Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia flee to Turkey as passport renewals halted at Chinese embassy


Chinese missions in Saudi Arabia had stopped renewing passports for Ethnic Uyghurs of Chinese nationality and were offering instead one-way travel documents suitable only for passage to China, rights group said. This has forced Uyghurs to instead seek asylum in Turkey as returning to China would mean persecution and detention.

Some 1.8 million members of Muslim minority groups are believed to have been held in internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The new policy has forced the 100-odd members of the Uyghur diaspora in Saudi Arabia to make a choice between returning home, where they are likely to be accused of harbouring “strong religious views” and detained, or remain where they are, under constant threat of deportation because of their illegal status.

RFA’s Uyghur Service recently spoke with several Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia who said that many members of their community have fled for Turkey, which has traditionally embraced the Turkic Muslim minority, in part because Riyadh supports China’s “rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism” measures, according to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and could deport them.

“The number of Uyghur students with Chinese passports studying in Saudi Arabia has become really small,” said Sirajiddin Ezizi, a prominent Uyghur journalist and religious figure in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s not like it was before. They’ve gone off to other places. A lot of them have applied for Turkish papers.”

According to Ezizi, many of the members of the diaspora in Saudi Arabia have been living there for 15 or 20 years and have already taken the steps to obtain Turkish citizenship so that they don’t have to fear possible repatriation to China.

AFP cited Norway-based Uyghur linguist Abduweli Ayup as saying he had confirmed five deportation cases from Saudi Arabia since 2017, although other Uyghur campaigners say the number is much higher, and RFA has also reported forced repatriations from countries including Egypt and Thailand.

“This isn’t just a fear here—it’s happening in Turkey, throughout the Arab world, even in Europe, there are some instances of sending people back,” Ezizi said.

“It’s not widespread in any one country, but some countries are doing it, for example Pakistan and Kazakhstan. But other than Egypt, none of the Arab countries have sent anyone back.”

A Uyghur woman in Saudi Arabia, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, also said that most of those who have been unable to renew their passports “are going to Turkey.”

RFA also spoke with a Uyghur student in Saudi Arabia who was among a group of students that last year wrote a letter to the Chinese consulate in the western city of Jeddah, asking why it was renewing passports for the ethnic Han community while ignoring their requests.

Attempts by RFA to contact the Chinese Embassy to verify the content of the letter went unanswered, but staff there told AFP that they had not stopped consular services for Uyghurs, nor do they “cooperate with Saudi authorities to deport Uyghurs.”

AFP also cited multiple Uyghur sources in Saudi Arabia as saying that they feared visiting the Chinese Embassy as some had had their passports invalidated even before the expiry date. (Source: RFA)