Historically, Turkey has long welcomed Uighurs and Turkic Muslims fleeing China and has spoken out against abuses. An estimated 50,000 Uighurs are refugees in Turkey, making it the largest Uighur diaspora hub in the world.
In May, Turkey’s ambassador to the US reiterated the cultural and linguistic ties between the ethnic minority groups and Turkey, and told Axios “any issue pertaining to their wellbeing holds a special place on our agenda”.
However, in recent years Ankara has grown closer to Beijing and increased its assistance in apprehending or interrogating Uighurs who Chinese authorities have accused of terrorism. While it refuses to return Uighurs to China directly, Turkey has been accused of sending them to a third country, like Tajikistan, where extradition to China is easier.
Residency paperwork has become harder to obtain, and many Uighurs in Turkey report receiving phone calls from Chinese police threatening family members still in Xinjiang if they do not stop campaigning against the ruling Communist party’s policies.
Daily demonstrations by the Uighur community are currently being held outside the Chinese consulate in Istanbul to protest against such treatment.
“At first Uighurs didn’t take the treaty seriously because all countries have such agreements between each other … but the fact is that Chinese Han who flee go to the west, not Turkey, so this treaty is specifically targeting us,” said Arslan Hidayet, an Australian Uighur activist who lives in Istanbul.
“We have been sold out by our own, despite the ethnic and religious ties we have, which is very hurtful.”