13 February 2020, The Tablet

Uyghurs: China’s inconvenient people

Uyghurs: China’s inconvenient people

Schoolchildren behind the Id Kah mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province
PA/SOPA Images/Sipa USA, Geovien So


The Muslim Uyghurs of China’s westernmost region are the most closely watched people in the world. Their very existence as a separate religious and cultural group is threatened, and now the camps in which one in 10 of them is confined face the risk of an outbreak of the coronavirus

I got to know Memet, a patient, good-natured, intelligent man somewhere in his forties, at our weekly literature sessions. The project, funded by the Royal Literary Fund, aims to bring UK writers and asylum seekers together over discussions of poetry and stories.

We are drinking hot tea during the breaktime of our discussion of an Aesop’s fable – the one about the dog and his reflection – when Memet asks me: “Jonathan, do you know about the genocide of my people?”
My answer seems entirely inadequate: “No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
Memet takes a sip of tea.
“There are many, many Uyghur people in concentration camps,” he explains. “We are being killed. We are being harvested for our organs. Our children are being taken away. Our language, religion and memories wiped clear.”
“That’s … terrible.” Again, my reply can only be entirely inadequate.
“Jonathan,” Memet says. “Did you not know that the Chinese Communist Party is removing us from the Earth?”

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