Uighur in Belgium fears for family after asylum snag

Abdulhamid Tursun's case has raised controversy in Belgium

An Uighur refugee living in Belgium complained Tuesday that Chinese authorities had cracked down on his family after they applied for the right to join him.

Abdulhamid Tursun's case has raised controversy in Belgium, where rights groups accuse the Belgian authorities of having effectively "delivered up" his relatives to the Chinese.

In May, Tursun's wife and four children visited the Belgian embassy in Beijing to seek visas to join him, but left after they were told they must first have Chinese passports.

Now they are back in their home in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and under what the refugee, now living in Ghent, said was increasing official pressure from a government that has cracked down on Uighurs.

"They are at home, under surveillance, and don't have the right to leave without authorisation," the 51-year-old told AFP in Brussels.

He is able to talk to his wife via the WeChat messenger app, but says the couple self-censor their conversations, which they assume are monitored.

"The Chinese government has still not given them the passports they need to leave the country," he said, urging Brussels to pressure Beijing.

Tursun has had asylum, under the name Ablimit Tursun, in Belgium since 2017 but human rights defenders are concerned about his family, and accuse Belgium of having cast them aside.

The foreign ministry insists there was a simple misunderstanding after Belgian diplomats urged the family not to stage a sit in on embassy premises.

But before the wife and children can be issued travel documents, China must print them passports, and there is no sign that Beijing is in a hurry to do so.

"She can't speak on the telephone because the conversations are bugged, that's for sure. She edits her feelings," he told AFP. "I can tell that she's frightened, frightened for the children."

Rights groups say the Uighurs, a mainly Muslim minority, have suffered a severe crackdown that has seen millions interned in re-education camps whose existence China denied until recently.