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The Chinese government is hunting down Uyghurs around the world with help from some surprising countries


From 1 million to 2 million Uyghurs and members of other minorities from Xinjiang are believed to be held in the camps, where they are forced to study Marxism, renounce their religion, work in factories and face abuse, according to human rights groups and first-hand accounts. Beijing says these “re-education camps” provide vocational training and are necessary to fight extremism. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on this article. 

According to the report, what scholars call “transnational repression,” ranging from online harassment to detention and extradition, has taken place in 44 countries, and Uyghurs have been threatened and intimidated in United States, Japan and across the European Union. More than 1,500 detentions and forced returns to China have occurred since 1997, more than 1,300 of them since 2014.

The report breaks down the repression into three distinct stages. From 1997 to 2007, 89 Uyghurs were detained or deported by local security services primarily in South and Central Asia. In the second phase, from 2008 to 2013, 126 Uyghurs were targeted primarily in Southeast Asia. And in the ongoing third phase, from 2014 to present, 1,364 Uyghurs have been detained, extradited or rendered from 18 countries concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report is based on a database built by Jardine in partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs called “China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs Dataset.” Researchers culled news reports and government documents and conducted interviews with Uyghurs to compile the comprehensive list of documented instances of persecution outside of China. Reporting by Jardine and NBC News indicates that the scale is likely more extensive than is officially reported.

The database includes 424 cases of Uyghurs forcibly returned to China, most since 2014, when the Chinese Communist Party launched its own “War on Terror.”

China’s secret service has relied on foreign governments in many cases and Interpol in some cases to help repatriate Uyghurs they wish to control, according to the report.

“This changes the Uyghur story by making clear that China is not only mistreating Uyghurs within China’s borders, but is also pursuing them internationally, through both legal and illegal channels, on a large scale,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute. “China is pursuing, harassing, and detaining Chinese Uyghurs around the world and returning them to China for punishment whenever possible.”

Many of the Uyghurs in the database have been detained and sent back to China without being charged with a crime, while others have faced accusations ranging from missing passports and visas to terrorism. Some were accused of making or associating with individuals who have made political statements critical of Beijing’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, while others were deported merely for having studied religion abroad. The database includes 60 documented cases of Uyghurs accused of promoting or partaking in separatism or terrorism or being linked to an extremist group.

In Morocco, a Uyghur human rights activist and journalist critical of China’s policies remains imprisoned following an Interpol red notice against him issued at Beijing’s request. While Interpol later withdrew its notice citing its bylaws forbidding persecution on political, religious or ethnic grounds, a Moroccan court approved an extradition request by China in 2021.

In a statement to NBC News, an Interpol spokesperson said that a “specialized task force” reviews every red notice request to ensure compliance with the organization’s rules, taking into account information available at the time of publication, and can re-examine any notice if new information emerges, as it did in the Morocco case. “[Interpol’s] General Secretariat is constantly reviewing, assessing and updating its procedures to ensure the greatest level of integrity in the system, and trust in its work,” the spokesperson said.

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