An Uighur man in Australia has been reunited with his wife and child after a three-year campaign to release them from Xinjiang in China.
On Thursday, Australian citizen Sadam Abudusalamu was able to reunite with his wife Nadila Wumaier, and three-year-old son Lutfy in Sydney.
The family was allowed to leave China following diplomatic negotiations.
Ms Wumaier – also a member of China’s Uighur Muslim minority – said she had previously been under house arrest.
The family shared pictures of their emotional meeting at Sydney Airport on Friday. Mr Abdusalam had never met his son before, who was born in 2017.
“Thank you Australia. Thank you everyone,” Mr Abdusalamu tweeted.
The tale of a three-year separation
Mr Abdusalamu, who had lived in Australia for a decade, went to China in 2016 to marry his then-girlfriend Ms Wumaier.
He returned to Australia for work in 2017, while Ms Wumaier waited in China for her spouse visa.
She gave birth later the same year, but Mr Abdusalamu was denied a visa to visit by the Chinese government.
Shortly after she gave birth, the family say Ms Wumaier was detained by Chinese authorities for two weeks. She was then released, but her passport was confiscated and she was not allowed to leave her home.
In the past two years, Australia has issued formal requests to China to allow them to leave. Although Ms Wumaier is not an Australian citizen, her son was formally recognised as one following an appeal by Mr Abdusalamu.
Chinese authorities had said in February that the couple’s marriage was not recognised under Chinese law and that Ms Wumaier wished to remain in China.
However, hours after those claims were made by a Chinese official on an Australian TV programme , Mr Abdusalamu posted a picture of his wife and child on Twitter with a time-stamped sign saying: “I want to leave and be with my husband”.
Last night on @QandA the Chinese embassy official lied and said my wife and son did not want to be with me. Here is the proof this not true. Here she is today with my son Lutfy I have never even met. Let them leave! Let me be with my family! #Uyghurs #Xinjiang pic.twitter.com/4k5uwuMypo
— sadam_abdusalam (@SMusapir) February 25, 2020
The couple had to wait another six months to finally get the news they had been waiting for.
“We found out two three months ago that they were going to be able to leave,” lawyer Michael Bradley told the BBC.
On Friday, after his family had arrived following a convoluted, 48 hour journey which had taken them through Shanghai, Hong Kong, Port Moresby then Brisbane before – finally – reaching Sydney, Mr Abdusalamu thanked Australia’s foreign department for their “incredible job”, and also expressed gratitude to his lawyers and the media.
“I never thought this day would come and I would dearly like to thank everyone who worked to hard to reunite us,” he said.
He added: “My dream is for all my fellow Uighurs to be reunited with their families.”
Human rights condemnation
Rights groups say China is holding about a million Uighurs and other Muslims in detention camps. However, China denies any wrongdoing, saying it is combating terrorism and religious extremism, and offering “political re-education” to those in camps.
In October, a group of 39 countries – including Australia, the UK, the US and several European nations – read out a statement at the UN saying they were “gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang” and the camps.
“We have seen an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations,” the statement read.
It listed concerns including severe restrictions on freedom of religion, movement, and expression of Uighur people and Uighur culture in the area.
“Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labour and forced birth control including sterilization,” the statement read.