Australian Uyghur Father Desperate for Reunion with His Wife and Son Trapped in Xinjiang

Australian Uyghur Father Desperate for Reunion with His Wife and Son Trapped in Xinjiang
Photo Source: Sadam Abudusalamu

What you need to know

China's Uighur detention camp policy has separated millions of families.

Dozens of Uyghurs in Australia have come out to share stories about their family being trapped in Xinjiang, including Sadam Abudusalamu.

Since China rolled out its re-education camp policy in Xinjiang, Abudusalamu has been forcefully separated from his two-year-old son Lutfy and wife Nadila Wumaier. They are currently trapped in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, living in constant fear that the police might take Wumaier into one of the re-education camps at any time. Abudusalamu has been desperately trying to get his family to Australia in the last two years, but the process has been filled with obstacles and challenges.

“I’ve been living in fear for the past two years because I don’t know what might happen to my family tomorrow,” Abudusalamu said. “Am I able to speak to my wife and son tomorrow? Where’s my son going to be if my wife was detained again?”

Abudusalamu moved to Australia for high school in 2009, several months before violent clashes between Uyghurs and government troops broke out in Xinjiang. He sought asylum soon after he arrived and became an Australian citizen in 2013. He met Wumaier in middle school and kept in touch through phone calls and texts over the years. In August 2016, he married Wumaier in Xinjiang. Over the next few months, they traveled to the United States and Turkey for honeymoon while visiting family members abroad.

Photo Source: Sadam Abudusalamu
Wumaier would post pictures or videos of her and Lutfy on WeChat Moments and delete them shortly after as a way to communicate with her husband in Australia.

Wumaier became pregnant in Turkey, and she started experiencing morning sickness and pregnancy cravings. At the time, China had not launched the campaign to intern hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in re-education camps, and no one knew much about the government’s plan. In April 2017, Abudusalamu and Wumaier decided to let her stay close to her family while he returned to Australia. That was the last time they saw each other.

Two weeks after Wumaier returned to Xinjiang, Abudusalamu received a message from Wumaier, telling him that the police came to her house and collected everyone’s passport. She told Abudusalamu that she was confident the government would return her passport before she gave birth, which proved to be wishful thinking.

“Based on my understanding of the Chinese government, I felt like something was going to happen,” said Abudusalamu. “In order not to scare my wife during her pregnancy, I didn’t share my concerns with her.”

Wumaier gave birth to their son Lutfy in August 2017. Meanwhile, the Chinese government had started to send Uyghurs who had visited Turkey or Saudi Arabia to internment camps. Abudusalamu worried that the same would happen to Wumaier since the couple visited Turkey in 2016. Not long after, Abudusalamu received a message from Wumaier’s friend, telling him that his wife had been taken away by the police.

“I lost contact with her for two weeks, and I didn’t know whether she was in re-education camps or prison,” Abudusalamu recalled. “She was detained for two weeks.”

Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Women at a vocational educational training center during a government organized visit in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

After Wumaier was released, the police told her that she might be arrested again. Based on a statement released by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Australia, police in Xinjiang told Wumaier that she would be sent back to detention when her son turned one, and Lutfy would be sent to a camp for children, given a Han Chinese name and adopted by a Han Chinese family.

At the same time, reports about Uyghurs being detained for calling family abroad started to surface, so Wumaier told Abudusalamu that they should not keep calling each other. Instead, the couple began to share photos and videos on WeChat Moments.

“She would post pictures or videos of her and Lutfy on WeChat Moments, and when I had viewed it, I would like the post, then she would delete the content instantly,” Abudusalamu said. “I used the same way to share my life in Australia, and that has been how we kept in touch over the last year.”

A Challenging Path to Reunion

In order to speed up the process of reuniting with Lutfy and Wumaier, Abudusalamu began the citizenship application process for Lutfy in February 2018. However, having never met Lutfy since the boy was born, Abudusalamu had a hard time convincing the Australian government that they are indeed father and son.

Since Abudusalamu’s name was not on his son’s birth certificate, he needed to prove their relationship before Canberra would grant Lutfy Australian citizenship. Wumaier took Lutfy to a lab in Urumqi to collect his DNA sample and found a way to send the report to Australia. After comparing both DNA reports, the doctor in Australia concluded that Abudusalamu and Lutfy’s DNA sample has a 99.99% match.

However, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs rejected Abudusalamu’s application because they claimed the DNA test was not done at designated labs. It was impossible for Wumaier to travel to Beijing or Shanghai for the DNA test since her identification documents had been confiscated by the police, he said. Without other alternatives, Abudusalamu decided to take the case to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

After a four-month reviewing procedure, the tribunal ruled that it was unlikely for Abudusalamu to fabricate the DNA report, which indirectly confirmed that the DNA report proved the father-and-son relationship between Abudusalamu and Lutfy. And in February 2019, Lutfy finally became an Australian citizen, but it did not make the family reunion much easier.

Photo Source: Sadam Abudusalamu
Lutfy is now two years old, still unable to reunite with his father in Australia.

“Since Lutfy is only two, it would require a designated adult to accompany him on the journey from Xinjiang to Australia,” Abudusalamu explained. “Since the Chinese embassy in Australia repeatedly rejected my visa application, my wife became the only person who could bring Lutfy to Australia.”

While the Chinese government continues to withhold his wife’s passport, Abudusalamu thinks Beijing has no reason to do so. “My wife didn’t break any law, so at least the Chinese government needs to explain to the world why they still won’t give my wife’s passport back to her,” he said.

A Second Threat from China

It has been almost six months since Lutfy gained his Australian citizenship, but the Australian government still cannot tell Abudusalamu when he can be reunited with his wife and son. To him, the endless wait forces him to live in fear every day.

During this period, Abudusalamu’s fight to reunite with his family has been highlighted by several media outlets, including a documentary produced by ABC News in Australia. ABC aired the documentary “How China is Creating the World’s Largest Prison,” which featured several testimonies from Uyghur Australians, including Abudusalamu.

On Tuesday, Abudusalamu received a message from his wife, telling him that the police had asked her to go to the police station and asking him to take care of himself if she did not return. “I was very worried and anxious because I didn’t know if she would be sent back to the re-education camps again,” Abudusalamu said.

Thankfully, Wumaier was released three hours later but she told her husband that the police asked him to stop speaking up, warning that his behaviors might put her at risk. Additionally, the police kept asking Wumaier to provide detailed personal information about Abudusalamu. “They asked for my passport number, my address in Australia and other information,” Abudusalamu said.

To him, pressure coming from Beijing makes him worry about his own safety in Australia. “I feel threatened by them,” he said. “I’m living in Australia but I still feel being monitored by the Chinese government.”

Credit: AP / Ng Han Guan
The Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center in Xinjiang.

Australia Demands China to Let the Uyghur Family Leave

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Wednesday that the Australian embassy in Beijing has formally requested that the Chinese government allow Wumaier and Lutfy to travel to Australia, according to ABC News. However, Payne emphasized that since Wumaier is not an Australian citizen, the embassy is not entitled to consular access to her.

On Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Geng Shuang (耿爽) said during the regular press conference that if Australia provides detailed information via the bilateral channel, the Chinese government will provide necessary assistance. “In fact, this is what we have been doing all along,” said Geng.

The news gave Abudusalamu hope that the Chinese government may agree to allow his wife and son to leave Xinjiang. “I actually feel like my wife and son have a better chance to leave China now, because I don’t think China wants any bad reputation by separating a two-year-old boy from his mom,” Abudusalamu said.

However, until he really sees his son and wife in person, he does not plan to stop speaking up. “I’m really grateful for the foreign minister’s statement, but as a father and husband, I need the Australian government to do more,” he said. “I will keep speaking and I won’t stop until I see my son and my wife.”

The original article was published by Deutsche Welle Chinese. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article in English, translated by William Yang.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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