Exile Groups Form Coronavirus Aid Center to Meet Needs of Uyghur Diaspora

The center will assist Uyghurs struggling to pay rent amid the financial impact of the outbreak.

Exile Groups Form Coronavirus Aid Center to Meet Needs of Uyghur Diaspora

As millions of people are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Uyghur exile groups have jointly launched an aid initiative to assist members of the diaspora—many of whom are ineligible for government assistance and healthcare benefits in their adoptive countries.

Thirty groups, under the leadership of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, agreed on March 26 to establish the “Coronavirus Crisis Help Center,” which now includes representatives from 18 different countries with communities of Uyghurs who have fled persecution in their homeland in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

According to a report released this month by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), Chinese embassy officials in adoptive countries regularly tell Uyghurs that the only way to renew a passport is to return to China, where many have subsequently been detained in the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps—believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.

However, lack of documentation impacts the livelihoods, marriages, living situations, studies, and freedom of movement of Uyghurs abroad, UHRP said, including the up to 50,000 who live in Turkey—many of whom cannot work, send their children to school, or even get a driver’s license without proper papers.

On April 17, after a two-week fundraising drive, the Coronavirus Crisis Help Center selected around 1,600 Uyghur families and 400 Uyghur students, primarily from Turkey, as the first wave of aid recipients.

As of Wednesday, Turkey had confirmed 98,674 cases of COVID-19—the disease caused by the coronavirus—resulting in 2,376 deaths, and as the outbreak has spread in the country many Uyghurs have lost their jobs or businesses, making their already-precarious living situations even more unstable.

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service last week, WUC president Dolkun Isa said that the center had raised nearly 1 million Turkish lira (U.S. $143,000) from April 2-15 and will begin to distribute the funds on April 27.

“In just a short amount of time, our center has received a lot of support and help from [Uyghurs around the world],” he said.

“Of course, such a level of assistance in such a short amount of time makes you really happy. This shows the strong spirit of mutual assistance that Uyghurs have for one another.”

Isa said that the number of applicants was significantly greater than initially expected and so the center plans to also apply for funding from international organizations and is currently in talks with potential donors.

“This isn’t something that is going to end with just a one-time donation—there are a lot of people [who need help], and the money we’ve gathered so far isn’t going to meet all of their needs,” he said.

“[The Muslim holy month of] Ramadan is coming. It will start [on April 23]. Ramadan is a month of love, cooperation, and family. If people give their zakat (almsgiving) to us during this time, their aid will go to exactly the people who are most in need of it.”

Meeting greatest need

Abdureshit Abdulhamit, a representative of the WUC, said that after opening applications for the program on April 2, the center processed nearly 2,500 submissions—around 2,000 of which were from families averaging four members and 500 of which were from students.

“Because the number [of applications] was so high, we removed around 400 families from the pool because we learned they had already received cash assistance from other sources,” he said.

“Ultimately, we ended up with a pool of 1600 families and 400 students.”

Turghunjan Alawudun, a Uyghur who works for the center, said that the selection process was based on whether families were struggling with paying their rent and utilities because the vast majority of applicants are tenants.

“Rent doesn’t go up or down depending on how many people there are [in a family] … so we decided that was the best way to do it,” he said.

Alawudun urged those Uyghurs who still plan to apply to wait if they are not currently “in dire need of assistance.”

“If the people who are in urgent need can receive assistance first, then in later steps, after donations come in from other sources, we will do our best to go back and distribute the funds fairly among everyone who needs them,” he said.

Hidayetulla Oghuzhan, leader of the East Turkistan Solidarity Association in Istanbul, called for additional support to help address the growing needs of members of the Uyghur diaspora in Turkey and elsewhere.

“One million lira doesn’t even come close to meeting their needs—it’s a small amount of money and anyone can do the math,” he said.

“The results [of the fundraiser] have been even better than we’d hoped for, but we still need to do more to meet the needs [of the community]. Inshallah, we hope that our Uyghur brethren, along with the Muslim brethren that live around us, will support and contribute to our cause.”

Reported by Erkin for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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China Confirms Hong Kong Reshuffle in High-Profile Announcement

Analysts say Beijing is using the reshuffle as a warning to high-ranking Hong Kong officials to toe the ruling Chinese Communist Party line.

China Confirms Hong Kong Reshuffle in High-Profile Announcement

China on Wednesday confirmed reports of a reshuffle of several key officials in Hong Kong, following reports that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is taking a more direct role in the running of the once-autonomous city.

China's State Council announced the removal of constitutional and mainland affairs secretary Patrick Nip, whose responses last week to questions over the role of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong were later "corrected" by his boss, chief executive Carrie Lam.

Nip was instead appointed secretary for the civil service, while hardliner Erick Tsang took over from him.

Lam told a news conference that the reshuffle had nothing to do with last week's controversy, during which China asserted that its liaison office isn't subject to a ban on interference by its departments in Hong Kong's internal affairs, but instead is authorized to play a "supervisory role" in the day-to-day running of the city.

University of Hong Kong social science lecturer Ken Yau said the central government is sending a signal with this reshuffle that the city's senior officials need to take the views of Beijing's Central Liaison Office into account when making decisions, or they too could face similar consequences.

He said the appointment of Chris Hui as secretary for financial services and the treasury, replacing colonial-era veteran James Henry Lau, also showed the growing politicization of the Hong Kong government with hard-line pro-China officials.

The announcement came amid fears that the authorities would withhold approval for an annual vigil in Victoria Park commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, for the first time in 31 years.

Coronavirus restrictions

The Ming Pao newspaper quoted police on Wednesday as saying that approval for public gatherings would depend on the coronavirus situation, and whether current restrictions on public gatherings remain in place.

It said police were unlikely to approve an application for an International Workers' Day march on May 1, and hadn't even considered an application for the annual July 1 protest march yet.

Staff said the football pitches and grassy areas where people usually gather for the June 4 candlelight vigil are currently closed, with no indication of when they will reopen.

Secretary for Security John Lee said the matter would be decided by police based on current legislation.

Vigil organizer Lee Cheuk-yan said his Alliance in Support of the Democratic Patriotic Movement in China had applied for a permit, but have had no response.

"The government should not use the epidemic to suppress the freedom of assembly," Lee said. "On what basis will they be preventing the vigil? Does the Chinese Communist Party want to silence all of Hong Kong's voices?"

'The Chinese Communist Party is clamping down now'

Last year's 30th anniversary saw 180,000 people crowd into Victoria Park for the vigil, with many in Hong Kong still remembering the pain and horror when news of the massacre was blazoned across their TV screens.

On May 21, 1989, around 1.5 million Hongkongers had turned out in a peaceful rally supporting the student-led democracy movement in mainland China.

"We know that things are going to get more and more difficult in the future, because the Chinese Communist Party is clamping down now," Lee told RFA. "Hong Kong's prospects are looking more and more gloomy: we are basically becoming part of the same system through China's interventions."

"We will continue to support freedom of assembly for the people of Hong Kong, and continue to mourn the June 4, 1989 massacre," he said.

Current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said the event could wind up being scattered across Hong Kong, much in the same way that the protest movement last year broke up into smaller events across all of the city's districts.

"Surely it will be possible to mark June 4 without a fixed location, in some appropriate and yet legal manner?" Liu said. "The event could be spread across the whole of Hong Kong."

"People shouldn't be intimidated by the big bad authority [of China]; instead we should allow even greater popular wisdom to emerge as a result of this official pressure," he said.

Beijing has ushered in an era of more direct political control over Hong Kong, with the cabinet reshuffle and a slew of statements targeting pro-democracy figures in recent days.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) of China's cabinet, the State Council, has made an unprecedented string of public statements reasserting China's rule over the city, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" following the 1997 handover.

"Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong," the office said in a statement on its website.

"People in the opposition camp and some radicals accuse the central government of interfering in Hong Kong’s high [degree of] autonomy, but ignore or even invite ... interference by foreign forces in enforcement actions by the police and the Department of Justice," the statement said.

The HKMAO also threw its support behind the recent arrests of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, and constitutional expert Margaret Ng, who were among 15 pro-democracy figures charged with "illegal assembly" at the weekend.

Police on Wednesday said they had charged two teenagers with the murder of 70-year-old cleaner Luo Changqing, who was hit on the head with a brick during a clash between protesters and other residents outside Sheung Shui MTR station on Nov. 13, 2019.

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan and Gao Feng for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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