The disappearing people: Uighur Kiwis lose contact with family members in China

 An Auckland couple from the Uighur ethnic minority say they fled to New Zealand after bribing officials. ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY

Harrison Christian
15:32, Nov 07 2018

Contact with their loved ones reduced to a trickle - then silence. Uighur New Zealanders say their families in China are disappearing into internment camps. But the Chinese Government is defending the facilities, describing them as "vocational training centres" set up to stop religious extremism. As China comes under global scrutiny, the Greens say our government should take a bolder stance on human rights abuses.

Somewhere in central Auckland, Ali* has turned his flat into a makeshift printing house.

The 40-something year old has killed three printers so far, churning out thousands of flyers about the plight of the Uighur people, dropping them in letterboxes at dusk.

He doesn't know what becomes of the flyers, which are scattershot collections of internet links, petitions and photos. 

But he felt he had to do something - spurred into action, he says, after radio silence fell on his family in Kashgar, the oasis city in China's far west.

The last time he spoke to his mother was more than two years ago. "Don't call us again," she told him.

Ali and his family are Uighurs (pronounced wee-gers): a Muslim ethnic minority of about 11 million people who live mainly in northwestern China.

Xinjiang, or "new frontier" in Mandarin, has long been a place of ethnic unrest; at its heart is a separatist movement that seeks to establish an independent Uighur homeland called East Turkestan.