A Uyghur man facing deportation to China from Qatar last week said Wednesday that his decision to flee Pakistan was prompted by claims that nine members of his ethnic group had been forcibly returned home from the South Asian nation, where he ran a company with ties to a Beijing-backed infrastructure plan.
Ablikim Yusup, 53, arrived safely in the U.S. on Tuesday with the help of U.S. Embassy officials after initially trying to reach Europe by way of Bosnia, which refused him entry because his special China travel document—papers issued by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to people who are legally defined as Chinese citizens for their travel to China and other countries—was not recognized there.
He was sent last week to Qatar, which then said it would deport him to Beijing, according to media reports, prompting him to appeal for days for help on social media posts from Qatar’s Doha International Airport, saying that he feared for his safety if sent back to China.
A day after arriving in Washington, Yusup told RFA’s Uyghur Service that despite being a resident of Pakistan, where he lived with his wife and young son, and running a successful import and export business that received contracts related to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) overseas infrastructure project, he feared that he was in danger of being deported to China, where he could face persecution.
“There were a lot of Uyghurs in Pakistan, and some started to disappear,” he said.
“I knew a Pakistani man who took me to his friend’s place for business. There were others there, and one of them was a former or current military official in plainclothes. After I was introduced as a Chinese citizen from [China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)], he spoke in Urdu, assuming that I didn’t understand, and said that Pakistan had just recently deported nine Uyghurs to China.”
According to Yusup, the military official said that deporting Uyghurs from Pakistan to China was “easy.”
“He said, ‘We just round them up by holding them by their necks, and China pays for it [deporting them],” Yusup told RFA.
“I was shocked, and thought they might come for me soon, so I started to keep a low profile.”
Yusup said he also recently learned that his assets had been frozen, presumably at the order of Beijing.
“I did a lot of work related to the BRI, but they had no honor,” he said, apparently referring to Chinese officials who had contracted his company.
“They froze my bank accounts in Pakistan and with the Bank of China. They are shameless. But it is OK because as long as I remain alive, there is hope.”
Another factor Yusup said had influenced his decision to flee Pakistan was that several Pakistani women had married Han Chinese living in the country who pretended to be Muslim, only to find out they had lied, and that this had led to animosity against all Chinese citizens.
“The locals did not know the difference between [Han] Chinese and Uyghurs—they would just call all of us Chinese and started to hate us,” he said, adding that the atmosphere in Pakistan had become such that “I could not go outside freely.”