Middle East

Uighur man threatened with deportation to China arrives in US after urgent appeal


Abulikemu Yusufu appealed to the world for help from Qatar after being told he would be forced to return to China where he feared he would face severe persecution. Now, he's arrived safely in the US.

A Uighur man who issued a desperate plea for help to the world after being threatened with deportation to China has arrived safely in the US, according to advocates.

Abulikemu Yusufu, 54, was detained by Qatari authorities at Doha's Hamad International Airport on Saturday after fleeing persecution in Pakistan where he had been living before attempting to enter Europe through Bosnia.

There he was booked on an upcoming flight to Beijing, despite grave fears for his safety.

Abulikemu Yusufu with advocate Tahir Imin after arriving in Washington.
Abulikemu Yusufu with advocate Tahir Imin after arriving in Washington.

Fearing for his life, Mr Yusufu videotaped a message from the airport asking for "the world's help". The video was subtitled in English and posted to social media by Australian-Uighur human rights advocate Arslan Hidayat, where it was shared thousands of times.

Shortly after 5am on Wednesday, Mr Hidayat tweeted that Mr Yusufu had arrived at Dulles International Airport in Washington after his lawyer told SBS News on Sunday they were seeking asylum for the 54-year-old in a third-party country. 

Mr Hidayat, whose comedian father-in-law is also feared missing in China, said the news was extremely exciting but he wished "that he didn't have to be the first to be saved in this manner".

Abulikemu Yusufu and his passport.
Abulikemu Yusufu and his Chinese travel document.

"A lot of people who were sent back [to China] did not make a Abulikemu Yusufu type video because a lot of these people knew they were going to be deported and knew they were going to die so they did not want to have the rest of their family, who are still residing in Xinjiang, to have issues or problems with the Chinese government," he told SBS News.

"I feel like I rescued my father-in-law because they are close to age."

Mr Yusufu was greeted at the airport by Tahir Imin, a founding member of the Uighur Times website, who had lobbied the US State Department on his behalf.

On Sunday, Kimberley Motley - the US human rights lawyer acting on behalf of Mr Yusufu - said Qatari authorities had agreed to delay his deportation for an unspecified number of days while his supporters scrambled to find a third-party country but declined to comment on which countries they were targetting.

"Right now we're just crossing our fingers and hoping we can figure out a country that is kind enough to accept this man," Ms Motley told SBS News.

According to a statement published in Buzzfeed News, a US State Department spokesperson confirmed Mr Yusufu was on his way to the US.

"The United States is alarmed by China’s highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang," the spokesperson said.

The decision to accept Mr Yusufu comes amid growing tensions between the US and China, with the State Department reportedly offering a powerful rebuke of their treatment of the Muslim-minority.

"We will continue to call on China to reverse its counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with peaceful religious and political expression, to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, and to cease efforts to coerce members of its Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate," the State Department added, according to BuzzFeed News.

The UN has estimated that more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim citizens are currently detained in Chinese camps throughout China's western Xinjiang region, with the remaining population subject to intense surveillance.

The US State Department has been contacted for comment.

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