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Community profile: who are the Uighurs?

A small diasporic community living in Australia and in other parts of the world, the Uighurs are Western China’s ethnic minority from a Muslim background and consider themselves to be ethnically and culturally close to Central Asian countries.

Over the past few years, many high-profile Uighurs have sought asylum outside of the region and some have been imprisoned for alleged terrorism or creating dissent within China. Consequent migration has seen Uighurs become a minority in Xinjang and in other parts of the world. 

The Chinese government alleges that there is a threat from violent extremists living in the region and accuses some individuals of being trained by Al Qaida.

In June 2012, six Uighurs reportedly attempted to hijack a plane from Hotan to Urumqi before they were stopped by crews and passengers. In May 2014, 31 people were killed and 90 suffered injuries after two cars crashed through a Urmuqi market where explosives were thrown into the crowd. In 2009 deadly race riots broke out in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjang where 197 people were killed when Uighur and Han Chinese civilians clashed. 

President of the Australian Uighur Association, based in Sydney, Mamtimin Ala told The Point Magazine that there are violent extremists taking matters into their own hands in Western China, but they don’t represent the Uighur community.

“Some Uighurs have tried to defend their rights and they are frustrated and disillusioned and a minority of them are looking at others means to deal with their grievances. These people have a political agenda and don’t share the aspirations of all Uighur people. There are very few people that use violence for the sake of furthering their own interest and not what the Uighurs want. The Uighurs have a population of 20 million globally and it’s unavoidable that we have a small amount of people who commit violence. This is not our community and who we are.”

Ala said although there are only 2000 Uighurs living in Australia, the community is worried about the safety and wellbeing of relatives and friends back home. 

“Some Uighurs have tried to defend their rights and they are frustrated and disillusioned and a minority of them are looking at others means to deal with their grievances. These people have a political agenda and don’t share the aspirations of all Uighur people."

– President of the Australian Uighur Association, Mamtimin Ala

“Uighurs feel they are not only missing out on their rights but are worried about their safety and future and this is shared by many Uighurs around the world and in China.”

Ala said that his community only wants to preserve its culture, language and religion. He said members of his community have been valuable contributors to Australia since they first migrated in the late 1970s.

“First of all the Uighur community is very grateful to the Australian government for giving them freedom and a very peaceful life and Uighurs feel themselves as part of the border Australian community and are part of Australian society and embracing Australian values. If you look at statistical data that we have internally many of them are studying and are employed and want to contribute more to society and off course, we are small in numbers, but are quite active in not only raising their own political issues but are also linked to the wider Australian community. We are productive and are a self-sufficient community.”

Ala said his community would like to see China look to Australia for best practice on coexistence and embracing diversity.

“Coexistence of faith and culture is the foundation of a democracy… in Australia there is a great space for diversity and plurality as long as we abide by the law. The Uighurs… know what it means to be in this society, we don’t take it for granted. We always cherish it and should always be grateful.”

The Point

Community profile: who are the Uighurs?

References

Images: Image One: Farrukh Image Two: Pros and Tsunamis

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