Disappearance Of Uyghur Family Seeking Visas For Belgium In China Renews Concerns About Security Of Uyghurs In Xinjiang

Zoé Duby

Abdulhamid Tursun, an Uyghur who sought refuge in Belgium two years ago, has not heard from his wife and children since May 31. Horiyat Abula and her progeniture travelled to Beijing to complete reunification visas at the embassy of Belgium, where she learned on May 29 the approval of the documents would take at least three months. She refused to leave the embassy’s premises, and eventually ended being dragged away by the police. The family returned to their hotel in Beijing before disappearing. Abdulhamid Tursun later learned his family was escorted to their home in Urumqi, put under house arrest and deprived of any electronic equipment. The recent events illustrate the ongoing persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang province in China. It also highlights the further security threats Muslim minorities undergo when attempting to seek help from a foreign government – which are quite powerless regarding the issue.


The Belgian authorities sent diplomats to Xinjiang, who apparently located the family in Urumqi. They also affirmed they would work actively to provide them with visas. When Mr. Tursun met with Joseph Bockaert, the director of consular affairs at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the latter allegedly stated Belgium was a small country, which therefore could not risk putting too much pressure on China. According to Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International, “The case exposes the additional risk Uyghurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments”. He also added that “The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights”.


This article firmly advocates for China to repeal the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-Extremification and to terminate the mass detention and surveillance programmes. Based on the unlikelihood of it, this paper urges the international community to play its part in the resolution of the matter. The events have previously been denounced by the United Nations and many countries, especially from the Western world. The international civil society thus must continue to report those Human Rights violations to raise awareness. The Western world (why not the European Union) should now, together with the Muslim-majority nations, initiate a UN fact-finding mission into the detention and surveillance programmes. The UN Human Rights Council should moreover adopt a resolution on the issue, urging the PRC to halt the persecution and detention of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.


The persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China, began in 2017 in the greatest silence. A large-scale arbitrary detention programme, alongside with severe restrictions on religious practice and acute surveillance of the Muslim population were implemented. The surveillance programme includes the monitoring of the daily lives of the minorities: any communication is recorded and available to the security forces, including the readings, contacts of those with whom they interact, DNA samples, but also GPS tracking on all vehicles and mobile devices. More than 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities are reportedly being detained (for minor infractions or arbitrarily). The use of abuse, torture, ill-treatment, and forced political indoctrination have been reported by former detainees, while the internees are restricted in contacts with the family. The Chinese government first denied the existence of the camps, before shifting towards a De-extremification justification. It states many Uyghurs are extremist Muslims posing a major terrorist threat to China’s national security, and the camps are aimed at reeducating them before reinserting them in the society. The situation raises paramount concerns over the security of the Uyghurs and Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.


The disappearance of Horiyat Abula and her children, while she was seeking visas to join her husband in Belgium, highlights the direct threat to the security of the 11 million Uyghurs and Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and particularly to the 1 million detainees. The international community is encountering difficulties to wield action because China is withholding information and access to the camps on the justification that the international organizations have no right to interfere in national security affairs. Moreover, the paramount importance of China in global trade and politics adds further difficulties to the issue. As Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International stated, UN member states “must not be cowed by China’s economic and political clout”. This paper deems a multilateral initiative, fact-finding mission, and action the only viable answer to the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in China.


Update: On July 8, 22 countries issued a joint statement urging China to end its “mass arbitrary detention and related violations” and Beijing to allow UN officials access to Xinjiang.