Chinese Muslim Uyghur men Source: The Uyghur American Association

At the request of China's government, Egypt has begun rounding up and deporting Chinese Muslims to face persecution back home.

China has marginalized its Muslim minority Uyghur population for years, with crackdowns on the community increasing in the last few months. In the Spring, China banned the community from wearing burqas and 'abnormal' beards. It also banned Muslim parents from giving their children a list of religious names, including Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Hajj and Medina.

Thousands of Uyghurs are currently in Egypt, many to study Islam or Arabic at the world-renowned Al Azhar University. Others have come to the country to experience living in a Muslim-majority country or to escape persecution back in China. 

But now, the security the Uyghur community felt in Egypt is under threat.

Many Uyghurs have come to study at Al Azhar Source: Flickr/Jorge Láscar

Chinese Muslims in Egypt are living in fear

An Uyghur told Middle East Eye that the Egyptian government formerly only went after individuals whose visas had expired. This has now changed, according to the source. 

"They don't check for visas anymore. They just violently arrest, and we don't know where they [those arrested] are now," the source said.

The crackdown has come at the request of the Chinese government, which has ordered all members of the Chinese Muslim community living abroad to return home to be screened for their political views and activities.

"They were scared because the Chinese government told everyone who is studying Islamic studies to come back," a Chinese Muslim residing in Istanbul told The New York Times, saying his friends in Egypt had been living in fear for several weeks.

“I spoke to one wife who said she was hiding on the roof of their home because she doesn’t know where to go,” he said. “And I spoke to another one who was just walking around the neighborhood. They are panicking.”

Aviation officials confirmed to The New York Times that at least 12 Chinese Muslims were deported this week and 22 more have been detained for immediate deportation.

Many in the Uyghur community fear for the lives of the deported individuals, saying they will be sent to "death camps."

"Some of our friends who went home [to China] just disappeared," Maryam told Middle East Eye. "We don't know what happened to them. It's not safe for us to go home."

Uyghur children in China Source: WikiMedia

Rights groups have called on Egypt to stop

The Middle East director for Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson has called on Egypt to cease the detentions and give those detained access to lawyers. Whitson said the individuals face a strong possibility of torture.

"Egypt should not deport them back to China, where they face persecution and torture," she said.

Rights groups have consistently called out China's treatment of its Muslim minority.

Amnesty International's 2016/2017 report said that oppression of the community has remained severe over the past year.

"The government continued to detain ethnic Uyghur writers and Uyghur-language website editors," the report said. "The government continued to violate the right to freedom of religion, and crack down on all unauthorized religious gatherings."

A 2017 report by Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of continued "restrictions on fundamental human rights and pervasive ethnic and religious discrimination."

"The Chinese government has long justified censorship in minority areas as a measure to maintain 'ethnic harmony,'" HRW said. "But ironically, this censorship fuels bigotry and ignorance – heightening already-strained ethnic relations."

Uyghurs burning a Chinese flag at a protest in Turkey Source: WikiMedia

Some Uyghurs have turned to extremism

Some in the Uyghur community have turned to violence and extremism, which activists and experts say is a direct reaction to state-sponsored oppression. 

"Many aspects of Uyghur cultural and religious life are now being deemed ‘abnormal’ and ‘manifestations’ of extremism, and thus subject to punitive ­enforcement," James Leibold, a professor at Australia’s La Trobe University said, according to Newsweek.

Beyond addressing names, clothing and facial hair, recent Chinese laws specifically say Uyghurs are not allowed to refuse to listen to state radio or watch state television. The new rules also provide guidance on how the Muslim community can raise children. 

Some of the Uyghurs currently residing in Egypt are attempting to seek asylum in the country. But the Egyptian government's round-up suggests it's more concerned with pleasing China than protecting the vulnerable Muslim community.