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Kazakhstan Grants 2 Chinese Muslims Refugee Status

Published: January 6, 2020
Kaisha Akan with lawyer Ayman Umarova (Image: Bitter Winter)

Two ethnically Kazakh Chinese, fearing persecution for their Muslim faith in their home province of Xinjiang, have been accepted as refugees in neighboring Kazakhstan, as reported by Bitter Winter.  

Kaisha Akan, an ethnic Kazakh who fled China after she received information that she would soon be detained and possibly sent to a concentration camp, was given a suspended 6-month sentence by a town court in southeastern Kazakhstan on Dec. 23, 2019 for illegally crossing the border. However, the judge ruled that she was allowed to stay in the country. 

With the help of volunteers defending human rights, another ethnic Kazakh who escaped Xinjiang was allowed to legally remain in Kazakhstan, at least temporarily, on Dec. 25.

Bitter Winter noted that the case sets a precedent for allowing Chinese nationals to become refugees in Kazakhstan, even if they do not apply for asylum first, at least in certain cases. 

“One element that weighed on the decision is that Akan’s husband is a Kazakh national,” Bitter Winter reported.  

“On the other hand, Akan has not escaped a transformation through education camp. She escaped China when she received believable information that she would soon be detained in a camp.” 

Bagashar Malikuly, the second ethnic Kazakh Chinese national granted at least temporary refugee status, had emigrated to Kazakhstan with his family in 2015. However, he was detained when he visited China to see his parents in November 2016. 

Bagashar Malikuly (Image: Bitter Winter)

Bagashar Malikuly. (Image: Bitter Winter)

The Chinese authorities confiscated Malikuly’s passport and Kazakh residence permit. He says he was tortured. Without his income, his family in Kazakhstan could not support themselves and faced eviction from their apartment. 

“On January 19, 2019, Malikuly fled to Kazakhstan, through barbed wires, snowy mountain roads, and howls of wolves. After several days, he reached his home, where he was sick for three months,” according to Bitter Winter

Malikuly did not initially file for asylum or go to the police, since he had heard of Sayragul Sauytbay, another ethnic Kazakh who was denied asylum and deported back to China. 

However, with the help of a volunteer group, he went to the city of Taldikorgan on Dec. 19 and submitted his asylum application. His status as an asylum seeker was granted, pending approval of his case. 

“The situation of refugees from China remains difficult in Kazakhstan, but the decision about Kaisha Akan brings a ray of hope,” Bitter Winter wrote of the woman who was granted Kazakh residence on Dec. 23. “The international organizations, politicians, and NGOs should continue to monitor closely the attitude of the Kazakh authorities towards asylum seekers from Xinjiang. The international efforts are not without results.”

Between human rights and profit

The Kazakh government has had a poor record of speaking out about mass human rights abuses committed against Chinese Muslims, even those of Kazakh ethnicity. Following its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Central Asian country has developed close economic and political ties with the People’s Republic of China. Kazakhstan plays an important role in the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a multi-trillion dollar series of global infrastructure investments aimed at offloading excess Chinese capacity and spreading Beijing’s soft power worldwide. 

Xinjiang, the Chinese province bordering Kazakhstan, is home to many of China’s Muslims, including more than 10 million Uyghurs. Relations with the communist authorities have been particularly strained since an episode of intense ethnic violence in 2009. 

In 2014, following a terrorist attack in southwest China committed by unknown individuals, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cracked down on the entire Xinjiang area, setting up mass surveillance systems and herding at an estimated 1-3 million people, mostly Muslims, into concentration camps. 

The mass incarceration and abuse of Chinese Muslims is the biggest CCP political campaign since the Party launched the nationwide persecution of Falun Gong in 1999. 

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