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Muslims refuse to be pushed out of Beijing - Globe and Mail, Canada

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  • Zafar Khan
    Muslims refuse to be pushed out of Beijing http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20030222/UCHINM//?query=Muslim Economic migrants from
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2003
      Muslims refuse to be pushed out of Beijing


      Economic migrants from Xinjiang keep returning,
      despite official intimidation

      Saturday, February 22, 2003 - Page A18

      BEIJING -- Even as bulldozers destroy their homes and
      the police launch another wave of raids and arrests in
      their street, the Muslims of Xinjiang are stubbornly
      refusing to be erased from China's capital.

      Demolition crews were smashing through their homes
      again yesterday, wrecking the brick walls of the
      shabby buildings in Beijing's last remaining Xinjiang
      neighbourhood. Policemen raided the same street the
      night before, breaking down doors, arresting a dozen
      Muslims and putting them on trains back to their
      restive homeland in northwestern China.

      Yet they keep returning to Beijing, no matter how
      often they are harassed or persecuted by authorities
      who allege that Xinjiang is a hotbed of separatism,
      bombings, assassinations and kidnappings.

      Ever since the terrorist attacks in the United States
      on Sept. 11, 2001, the Chinese government has enjoyed
      a much freer hand in its crackdown on Xinjiang
      Muslims. Human-rights group have warned that China is
      exploiting the terrorism issue and the global
      antiterror campaign as an excuse to crush any dissent
      in Xinjiang, where many Muslims have formed
      underground groups to push for separatism.

      Yesterday, the Muslim migrants from Xinjiang were
      huddled around little coal fires on their street,
      trying to fend off the winter chill, while
      plainclothes police kept a close eye on them.

      When night falls, many of them sleep among the garbage
      in the abandoned buildings, or doze fitfully under the
      night sky on cheap cots and mattresses in the rubble
      of the demolished street.

      "I live in constant fear," said a 22-year-old man from
      Xinjiang who scrounges a living by grilling skewers of
      lamb at Muslim restaurants.

      "I just want to earn some money in Beijing and go back
      home. It's impossible to find any job in Xinjiang, so
      sometimes I work in Beijing. But whenever we go out,
      even to shop, the police always stop us and ask for
      our identification."

      Less than four months ago, he was arrested and
      forcibly placed on a train back to Xinjiang. "I felt
      very angry," he said, "because I hadn't done anything

      At the end of December, he defiantly returned to
      Beijing. But now the crackdown is under way again, and
      the demolition of his neighbourhood will soon be
      finished. The Muslims, who belong to the Uighur ethnic

      minority, are a slowly diminishing presence in the

      "They want all the Xinjiang people to go home," an
      Uighur woman says. "They don't want us to live or work
      in Beijing."

      None of the Xinjiang people were willing to give their
      names to a journalist. When they were interviewed in a
      restaurant, the owner soon evicted the reporter. "If
      you keep asking these questions," one Muslim said,
      "I could become a political prisoner."

      Their little neighbourhood, known as Xinjiang Village,
      is the last stand of the Beijing Uighurs. A few years
      ago, they lived in another neighbourhood, famed for
      its restaurants and kebab vendors. But their street
      was demolished in 1999, forcing hundreds of Uighurs to
      move to the new village. Now even this last street is
      being destroyed, leaving them homeless.

      Landlords are unwilling to rent homes to them, Uighurs

      Xinjiang, a strategically important energy-rich region
      in the deserts of northwestern China, is a
      traditionally Muslim area on the Silk Road to Central
      Asia. But after massive migration by China's ethnic
      Han majority in recent decades, only about half of the
      region's 18 million people are Muslim today.

      According to human-rights groups, Xinjiang is the only
      region of China where political prisoners are still
      regularly executed. Police torture, beatings and
      arbitrary arrest are also widespread in the region,
      groups said. Mosques and Uighur-language schools have
      been heavily controlled or even shut down.

      The Xinjiang people laugh derisively at the idea that
      they might be terrorists. "Most of us don't even have
      places to live, so how could we be terrorists?" one
      man asked.

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