Uighurs in Australia hope a new bill banning imports from China's Xinjiang region will become law

As evidence of mass forced labour of Uighurs in Xinjiang mounts, Australian senator Rex Patrick has introduced to federal parliament a bill to ban the importation of goods from the Chinese region.

Mamutjan Abdurehim

Mamutjan Abdurehim has been separated from his wife and two children for five years. Source: SBS News

Mamutjan Abdurehim hasn't been able to see his wife and two children for the past four years.

Information from the Chinese region of Xinjiang, where they are based, is scarce, and Mr Abdurehim told SBS News he fears for the worst.

“I can’t describe properly enough, how much agony it has been and how much I miss my family,” he said.

The family lived abroad in Kuala Lumpur while Mr Abdurehim studied a PHd in sociology and international affairs.

However he became separated from his 33-year-old wife, Muherrem Ablet, and two children, aged 5 and 10, when they were forced to return back to China after Ms Ablet lost her Chinese passport.  

"We were told by the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur that she had to return to get her passport replaced and because her overseas visa was expiring, she went back in late 2015." 

Mr Abdurehim maintained regular contact with the family until early 2017, when it's believed China's crackdown on Muslim Uighurs began. 

He said he does not know where she is and fears she could be working in a forced labour factory.

“Being in the dark about their whereabouts and well-being is the hardest thing to think about because you don't know anything about them or how they are doing.

“My wife could be in the camps, in prison or in a forced labour factory, I just don’t know.”

Since 2017, more than a million Uighurs are thought to have been locked up in internment camps in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has said these camps are "voluntary" in nature and used to counter extremism.

Evidence has also grown of Uighurs being transferred to forced labour factories.

Last week, Washington-based research centre the Centre for Global Policy said Chinese government documents and media reports showed at least 570,000 people in three Xinjiang regions were sent to pick cotton under a coercive labour program targeting ethnic minority groups.

Senator Rex Patrick speaks at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Senator Rex Patrick speaks at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, May 19, 2020 Source: AAP

Meanwhile in Canberra, independent senator Rex Patrick has recently introduced a new bill to federal parliament aimed at stopping the supply line of goods made in Xinjiang to Australia.

“Any product that originates from Xinjiang will be stopped at the border. It will not be permitted to be landed here in Australia,” he told SBS News.

Australia introduced laws focused on stamping out modern slavery in late 2018 but Senator Patrick said it doesn't go far enough.

“The modern slavery legislation deals with companies that have a turnover of more than $100 million but this bill seeks to stop any company, no matter how much turnover it has, from importing materials from Xinjiang.”    

The Senate has referred the bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee for inquiry and submissions will be open until February 2021. 

Rex Patrick has taken to the Senate to table a bill to ban goods from Xinjiang.
Rex Patrick has taken to the Senate to table a bill to ban goods from Xinjiang. Source: SBS News

Eldana Abbas from the Australian Uyghur Tangritah Women's Association, an organisation representing Uighur and Turkic women and youth in Australia, said the local Uighur community believes the introduction of the bill to parliament is a "big step forward." 

"This the first time this kind of bill has been introduced in Australia. It is quite exciting, we absolutely hope this will become law in Australia," she said.

"Slave labour should not exist in any form in the 21st century." 

China has strongly dismissed allegations of forced labour involving Uighurs in Xinjiang.

It says training programs and work schemes have helped stamp out extremism in the region and that all ethnic groups in Xinjiang were free to choose their occupation.

4 min read
Published 22 December 2020 at 6:32am
By Lin Evlin