They Escaped China’s Crackdown, but Now Wait in Limbo

By Christina Anderson and Chris Buckley

Oct. 27, 2018


GAVLE, Sweden — Abdikadir Yasin and his wife waited for months, dreading a call telling them they would have to leave Sweden and return to western China, where the government has corralled hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs like them into re-education camps.

The couple had joined an outflow of Uighurs from the western region of Xinjiang three years ago, when China’s clampdown on the minority group was intensifying. They ended up in Sweden, where their asylum request was rejected, leaving them in fear of being deported and ending up in the camps.

Fleeing Uighurs have struggled to win acceptance and asylum in a world where the restrictions on them in China — including omnipresent surveillance and arbitrary detention — have won little attention until recently.

They face an array of pressures from the Chinese authorities and from host countries, some of which, like Sweden, have already taken in many people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As long as you are a Uighur, it’s just a matter of time before you end up in a situation like this,” Mr. Yasin said in Gavle, a small city north of Stockholm that is the latest stop on their journey. “Today it was me.”

This sense of precarious invisibility is often felt among the million or more Uighurs living beyond China’s borders, especially those who left in recent years. Beijing’s rising influence has raised the risks of their being forced back to China.