China ‘to let thousands of ethnic Kazakhs leave Xinjiang’

Kazakh foreign ministry says they will be allowed to drop their Chinese citizenship

The Guardian
Date: 9 Jan 2019
By: Associated Press 

In this December image, Kazakh relatives of people missing in Xinjiang hold up photos of their loved ones. Photograph: Dake Kang/AP

China is allowing more than 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs to abandon their Chinese citizenship and leave the country, the Kazakh foreign ministry has said, in a sign that Beijing may be starting to feel a mounting backlash against its crackdown on Muslims in the far west region of Xinjiang.

The detention of Uighur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities in internment camps has been an issue in neighbouring Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country of 18 million people. China is a major trading partner, and Kazakhstan’s state media had generally avoided reporting on it. But activists say pressure for action has slowly built following international media coverage.

The foreign ministry press office confirmed Kazakh media reports from December that China had agreed to let more than 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs leave. It did not say who could leave or why. They will be allowed to apply for Kazakh citizenship or permanent residency after their arrival in Kazakhstan, the email said.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have launched a massive surveillance and detention campaign that has swept as many as a million people into internment camps. Former detainees have said they were forced to renounce their culture and faith and subjected to political indoctrination.

The detentions have sent a chill over a tight-knit community of Chinese-born Kazakhs living in Kazakhstan. Many had left China to pursue business opportunities or educate their children in Kazakh schools as restrictions tightened in Xinjiang.

Hundreds lost contact with relatives in Xinjiang, and many began writing letters and attending media conferences, hoping that greater publicity would help bring their loved ones home.

Serikzhan Bilash, the head of the Kazakh advocacy group Atajurt, said he was warned by officials to halt his activities four times this summer but the warnings later stopped. In December, he was invited onto a popular Kazakh talk show for an hour, indicating growing tolerance of his work publicising the plight of detained Kazakhs.    [FULL  STORY]