Turkey dismisses fears of Uyghur deportations to China

Muslim Uighurs demonstrate in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul on Dec 30, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey on Wednesday (Dec 30) brushed aside fears that a new extradition treaty with China would result in Ankara deporting Muslim Uyghurs en masse.

About 20 Uyghurs with Turkish citizenship picketed China's consulate in Istanbul after the Chinese parliament ratified the 2017 treaty on Saturday.

Ankara has not yet ratified the agreement, but its approval in Beijing has put Turkey's estimated 50,000-strong Uyghur community on edge.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not say when Turkey's parliament might debate the agreement. But he said its approval would not mean "Turkey will release Uyghurs to China".

"Until now, there have been requests for returns from China related to Uyghurs in Turkey. And you know Turkey hasn't taken steps like this," Mr Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

It would be "wrong and unfair to say it's a deal for the extradition of Uyghurs. We are more sensitive to such issues than others," he said.

Uyghurs speak a Turkic language and have cultural ties with Turkey that make it a favoured destination for avoiding persecution in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.

But news reports have accused Turkey of covertly returning Uyghurs to China via third countries.

Rights activists say Xinjiang is home to a vast network of extrajudicial internment camps that have imprisoned at least one million people.

China says these are vocational training centres to counter extremism.

Ethnic Uyghurs rallied for the ninth day running on Wednesday to express their fears about the extradition treaty.

"God willing, we hope our state will not approve such a thing," said Omer Farah, an Uyghur with Turkish citizenship who said his children are detained in China. "But if it does, we are really worried. Because for China, all 50,000 Uighurs who live here are criminals."

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