Muslims refuse to be pushed out of Beijing - Globe and Mail, Canada
- Muslims refuse to be pushed out of Beijing
Economic migrants from Xinjiang keep returning,
despite official intimidation
By GEOFFREY YORK
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
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
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
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