A Uyghur woman detained in detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region has made it safely to the United States, a Uyghur human rights group announced on Saturday, ending months of uncertainty over whether she would be forcibly returned from her home in Kazakhstan.
Tursunay Ziyawudun initially settled in Kazakhstan with her husband, who is a Kazakh national, after being detained for ten months without charge of any crime. But last year the Kazakh government said it had to return to China to apply for a new visa as a procedural matter. Returning to the country would likely have meant that she would be detained again.
BuzzFeed News reported on her case in February.
“We are very relieved that Tursunay is now safe in the US,” said Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur human rights project, in a statement that she has already arrived safely and that his organization is helping her with relocation and access to medical care Treatment for a serious health condition.
According to independent estimates, China has arrested more than a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in mass internment camps since late 2016. The government said the detentions were for “vocational training,” but former detainees, including Ziyawudun, have made it clear that they were forcibly taken to camps, saying they had experienced humiliation, starvation, beatings and regular interrogation, among other things .
The Chinese government claimed in December that those who had completed the “professional training” program had “graduated”. However, a recent investigation by BuzzFeed News found that construction of large, purpose-built detention centers and prisons is ongoing.
Ziyawudun’s lawyer said she believed the press coverage helped her case.
“Her situation required her story to be published,” Aina Shormanbayeva, Ziyawudun’s lawyer in Kazakhstan, told BuzzFeed News.
Ziyawudun is one of a small number of former inmates who have left China and spoken publicly about their experiences. The Washington, DC-based Uyghur human rights project said her home was set on fire in February “under suspicious circumstances” after she started talking about her story. (Ziyawudun’s attorney confirmed that her house was burned down at the time.)
She later traveled to Istanbul for medical treatment, Shormanbayeva said, before being allowed to travel to the United States. She is still in the process of applying for refugee status in Kazakhstan, but Shormanbayeva said there were doubts that the Kazakh government would grant her that status.
However, the risk that Ziyawudun will be forcibly returned to China is gone.
“I hope she is safe in the US,” said her lawyer.