“Another Form of Control”: Complications in obtaining documents from China impacts immigration processes and livelihoods for Uyghurs in the United States

July 10, 2018
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Despite leaving repressive conditions in China, Uyghurs in the United States often face insurmountable obstacles in beginning new lives due to difficulty in securing official documents from China evidencing life events. UHRP discusses this issue in a new briefing utilizing interviews conducted with U.S.-based Uyghurs in May and June 2018, who told researchers about complications in obtaining documents, such as college transcripts and divorce decrees.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) learned Uyghurs were unable to get documents from Chinese government entities because of Chinese officials’ imposition of arbitrary conditions or because relatives in East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) who are in a position to assist in procuring certifications feared any contact with overseas Uyghurs. In the latter case, contact with loved ones in the United States could land individuals in one of China’s internment camps in East Turkestan. Obtaining documents from China became difficult for Uyghurs beginning 2014 and since 2016 it has become near impossible.

Interviewees told UHRP that the challenge in obtaining documents from China is a result of intensified repression targeting Uyghurs with overseas connections. Since 2017, China has detained possiblyover a million Uyghursin internment camps. Authorities have interned some Uyghurs for having overseas connections either through relatives living abroad or having themselves resided outside of China. Prior to the establishment of the internment camps, interviewees said getting documents through the help of relatives was possible, even though in some cases bribes were necessary. It should be stressed that obtaining documents from China became difficult after 2014 and after 2016 it became absolutely impossible. Before 2014 it was difficult but still it was possible to get documents from China regarding education, marriage and birth.

The individuals UHRP interviewed believed official obstruction in obtaining documents through the placement of difficult-to-meet conditions was an expression of China’s racialized discrimination against Uyghurs.

UHRP recommends immigration officials in the United States and other institutions, such as universities and colleges, consider the difficulty currently faced by Uyghurs in getting relevant documents from China.

“The mass-incarceration of Uyghurs in internment camps has implications that extend beyond East Turkestan. China is locking up Uyghurs because they have family members overseas. As a result, Uyghurs fear to contact their loved ones overseas just for a brief conversation let alone attempt to help them obtain documents to start new lives,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat in a statement from Washington, DC.

Mr. Kanat added: “The long arm of Chinese control crosses borders and Uyghurs are particularly susceptible. As Uyghurs attempt to rebuild their lives overseas in the belief they are free of China’s repression, the Chinese state finds ways to limit their opportunities. I urge immigration authorities outside of China to consider the difficulties Uyghurs have in procuring documentation from China in comparison to Han Chinese.”

Uyghur Human Rights Project briefing by Henryk Szadziewski; read the full briefing here.

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