Melbourne, Australia – Yusuf Hussein is an Australian Uyghur citizen living in the small town of Adelaide.
He and his five children talked to their parents every week, but since 2017 he has not been able to contact them.
“Suddenly, [they] he disappeared and none of them answered my phone, “Hussein told Al Jazeera.
“I was not sent a message. I tried to send a message. None of them responded.
A recent Human Rights Watch report accuses the Chinese government of committing “crimes against humanityAgainst the predominantly Muslim Uighurs in their western region of Xinjiang.
Crimes such as imprisonment, forced labor, sexual violence, torture, murder and enforced disappearance.
Hussein believed his 85-year-old father, mother and siblings had been moved to what he described as a “concentration camp.” large-scale detention centers that the United Nations has said can hold about a million Uyghur people.
The Chinese government refers to centers as “education camps” that offer “training in professional skills“.
Victoria Uighur Association President Alim Osman said in a recent parliamentary inquiry that there were about 5,000 Uighurs living in Australia, with about 1,500 thought to be in Adelaide, a city of 1.3 million. of people on the south coast.
Many Uyghurs living in Australia have similar stories of detainees or total disappearance of loved ones.
“No one can give us answers”
Marhaba Yakub Salay, 33, like Hussein, is also an Australian Uyghur citizen living in Adelaide, after moving to the country in 2011.
Her older sister Mayila Yakufu is also currently imprisoned in Xinjiang for the second time.
When Yakufu was released after being first hospitalized for 10 months in 2017, Salay talked to her on the phone for about 10 minutes.
During the conversation, Yakufu did not say where he had been.
“I was trying to ask him: where have you been in the last ten months?” Salay told Al Jazeera.
“He didn’t say anything, but he said,‘ Don’t worry about us, the Chinese Communist Party [is] taking very good care of us ”.
Salay believed his sister was not calling from home, but from somewhere else under government supervision.
It was the last time they spoke and in May 2019, Yakufu was arrested again.
According to an email from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), which Al Jazeera has seen, Salay’s sister was arrested “on suspicion of funding terrorist activities”.
The indictment, Salay says, was based on money transferred by her sister to her parents, who also live in Adelaide.
This money, according to Salay in Al Jazeera, was not for terrorism, but to buy a house.
“We have all the evidence here,” Salay said. “These are black and white evidence, but the Chinese government still accuses my sister of supporting terrorism abroad.”
Salay believed these charges were invented by the Chinese government with the aim of detaining his Uyghur sister, with the DFAT email indicating that his sister would likely be detained “in a traditional prison, rather than a re-education camp. “.
Almas Nizanidin also had a loved one, a “missing” Uyghur Austrian citizen.
In 2017, his wife Buzainafu Abudourexiti, now 29, was sentenced to seven years in prison for saying she has “no charges” and “no evidence.”
Nizanidin had planned to return to China to help his wife emigrate to Australia, where he has lived since 2009, but was interned before he could do so and has no knowledge of his place.
“[The Chinese authorities] he won’t tell me anything. We are told that “this is an order of the greatest,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I have been everywhere [in China] and no one can give me the answers ”.
Nizanidin said his mother, a 55-year-old math teacher, was also arrested and sent to a detention center for more than two years.
She was finally released last year, but Nizanidin said that although she has since spoken to her mother on the phone, she would not say anything about her experience.
“She is shocked and scared. It doesn’t mean anything, “he said.
“He was telling me, ‘Shut up, shut up. Do your own business, don’t say anything against the Chinese government.’
Hussein, Salay and Nizanidin told Al Jazeera that the Australian federal government has backed investigations into what has happened to their loved ones.
However, Nizanidin said the Australian government is cautiously treading the issue of Uighur disappearances and arrests due to its close economic trade relationship with China.
It is a feeling shared by Salay.
“Sometimes I know conversations about money. But the money has to be clean, right? He told Al Jazeera.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with 168 billion Australian dollars (128.6 billion US dollars) in exports in 2019-20, equivalent to a third of Australian world trade.
In recent times, this trade relationship has deteriorated further with Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China, and allegations of forced labor between Chinese companies in Xinjiang have put the trade agreements in writing. Australia.
In late 2020, a report appeared stating that the government of Victoria (Australia’s second most populous state) had relations with a Chinese railway company related to Uyghur forced labor.
The report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Uyghurs For Sale, identified 82 foreign and Chinese companies “potentially or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive hand transfer programs of work until 2019 ”.
Companies identified in the report include CRRC, which ASPI said is part of a two-billion Australian dollar (US $ 1.5 billion) contract to build 65 trains for the Victorian government.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, a spokesman said the Victorian government was “deeply concerned about allegations of associated forced labor” with companies linked to the Victoria train project.
The statement added that the government had received “repeated assurances from manufacturers that there is no evidence of forced labor in their supply chains”.
Despite calls from the opposition to provide evidence of these guarantees, none have yet been offered.
Instead, opposition Transport Minister David Davis has taken the dramatic step of obtaining such evidence through a judicial process.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Davis acknowledged that it was “notoriously difficult to look down a supply chain” to find evidence of forced labor.
However, he also said that “if the minister has received a guarantee [that Uighur forced labour was not being used] we want to see what that guarantee is ”and we asked why the government was“ fighting bitterly ”to withhold this evidence.
With the governments of the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada exerting recent pressure on China to treat the Uyghur minority, Hussein, Salay and Nizanidin believe the Australian government should follow suit.
“The Australian government can acknowledge that it is genocide and pressure the Chinese government to release my sister,” Salay said.
For the three of them, the issue is simple and human: three Australian citizens remain out of touch with their loved ones.
“I have to talk to my wife,” Salay said. “I just want to reunite with my family.”
The pain of this separation it was further aggravated during the recent Eid.
“Today is Eid Day and we used to call them and talk about it [our family]Hussein told Al Jazeera.
“It simply came to our notice then. Even my children (our eldest is 11) also ask, “Where is my grandfather? Where is my grandmother? ‘”