The Chinese mission in Saudi Arabia stopped renewing passports for the ethnic Muslim minority more than two years ago, in what campaigners call a pressure tactic exercised in many countries to force the Uighur diaspora to return home.
Half a dozen Uighur families in Saudi Arabia who showed AFP their passports — a few already expired and some approaching the date — said they dread going back to China, where over a million Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps.
“Even animals in other countries are allowed to have passports,” said the 30-year-old religious student in the Muslim holy city of Medina, whose passport expired in 2018.
“Either they should renew my passport or let me drop my nationality. They make us feel like worthless humans.”
The community, now offered a one-way travel document suitable only for a trip to China, faces an impossible choice: return home at the risk of detention or remain illegally in the kingdom under constant fear of deportation.
“Refusing passport renewals is part of China’s strategy to smoke out the Uighur diaspora, forcing them to return to China,” Norway-based Uighur linguist Abduweli Ayup told AFP.
“What awaits them on the other side is detention.”
Amplifying the community’s fears is the conspicuous silence of Muslim-majority states — from Pakistan to Egypt — over China’s treatment of Uighurs as they avoid crossing Beijing, an economic powerhouse.
Particularly concerning is Beijing’s deepening ties with Saudi Arabia — the epicenter of the Muslim world and home to Islam’s two holiest sites — which has reportedly condoned the Uighur policy of China, the top importer of Saudi oil.
Saudi Arabia supports “China’s rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism” measures, Chinese state media quoted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying last year.
This year, China threw its support behind the kingdom over its handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder trial, which triggered global criticism after Prince Mohammed’s closest aides were absolved of blame.