Kabul [Afghanistan], September 5 (ANI): Uyghur refugees in Afghanistan who escaped persecution are under the fear that they could be deported to China as it is wooing the Taliban.
Ivan Watson, writing in CNN said that Uyghurs who crossed the border from China's western Xinjiang region to Afghanistan 45 years ago to escape persecution fear that they could be sent back to China by the Taliban, who are keen to curry favour with Beijing.
Tuhan, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity from the Taliban, is caught between a homeland where Uyghurs are facing increasing repression, and an adopted country where they are considered outsiders.
What worries them most is that they could be deported to China, said Watson.
Over the past few years, the Chinese government has escalated its security and religious crackdown in Xinjiang. Up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have passed through a sprawling network of detention centers across the region, according to the US State Department.
Former detainees allege they were subjected to intense political indoctrination, forced labour, torture, and even sexual abuse.
China vehemently denies allegations of human rights abuses, insisting the camps are voluntary "vocational training centers" designed to stamp out religious extremism and terrorism, reported CNN.
Tuhan said she fears what will happen to her and her family if they're forced to return.
"It is just a matter of time before (the Taliban) find out that we are Uyghurs. Our lives are in danger," said Tuhan.
Many Uyghurs fled China after the Communist Party took control of Xinjiang in 1949. Some -- like Tuhan -- migrated in the mid-1970s, during the chaos of the last years of the Cultural Revolution, crossing mountain passes in the south of Xinjiang to seek refuge, said Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University and author of "The War on the Uyghurs."
Many of the Uyghurs now hold Afghan citizenship, but their identification cards still identify them as Chinese refugees -- including second-generation immigrants, according to an ID photo shared with CNN and accounts of two Uyghurs.
Despite having lived for decades in Afghanistan, the Uyghurs are considered outsiders, and unlike thousands of people airlifted to safety by the US and its allies, they have no country to help negotiate their exit.
"They don't really have anybody to advocate on their behalf, to help them get out of the country," Roberts said.
Tuhan said she and her family don't even have passports, so they have limited options to leave Afghanistan, even if another country was willing to take them.
"They don't give passports for free, and we can't afford it. But now they have stopped issuing the passports anyway," she said.
"It has been 45 years since we fled here. We have grown old without seeing a good day," she said. "Hopefully our kids could have a better life. That's all we want. We just want to be saved from this oppression."
There's a reason for Uyghurs in Afghanistan to be worried, say experts.
In July, a Taliban delegation paid a high-profile visit to Tianjin, where they met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang called the Taliban "an important military and political force in Afghanistan" and declared that they would play "an important role in the country's peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process."
In return, the Taliban called China a "good friend" and pledged to "never allow any forces to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China," according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry at the meeting.
And last week, a Taliban spokesperson called for closer relations with Beijing in an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
"China is a very important and strong country in our neighbourhood, and we have had very positive and good relations with China in the past," Zabihullah Mujahid said. "We want to make these relations even stronger and want to improve the mutual trust level."
Roberts said Uyghurs' fears the Taliban could deport them to China to gain more favour with Beijing were legitimate.
"(The Taliban) have a lot of reasons to try to ingratiate Beijing in terms of gaining international recognition, in terms of getting financial assistance at the time when most of the international community is not giving them financial assistance," he said.
The Chinese government has a long history of engaging with the Taliban, dating back to the late 1990s, when the militant group last controlled Afghanistan, reported CNN.
Beijing has repeatedly urged the Taliban to crack down on Uyghur groups in Afghanistan, primarily the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which it has blamed for almost every terror attack or violent incident in Xinjiang and other parts of the country.
During his July meeting with Taliban officials in Tianjin, Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, said ETIM "poses a direct threat to China's state security and territorial integrity."
ETIM is basically an Uyghur group with a key objective of self-determination for the ethnic Uyghur community of Xinjiang province in China and the creation of an autonomous 'East Turkestan' out of it. (ANI)