Sadam Abdusalam, an Australian man of Uighur descent, spoke out for the first time about the painful experience of being forced to separate from his wife and children for 1,338 days after she was barred from leaving China.
Meanwhile, pregnant Nadila Wumaier found herself unable to leave China’s Xinjiang region in 2017 when Chinese authorities seized her passport, derailed her plans to join Abdusalam in Australia.
Only until the end of 2020, Abdusalam and his son Lutfi Meet someone for the first time – at Sydney airport.
This year 5 years old, Lutfi was born in Xinjiang, where the United Nations said long awaited report This week, Beijing’s policies toward Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities could turn into crimes against humanity.
Abdusalam’s new book, titled ‘Liberating My Family’, recounts his childhood experiences in Australia, the painful ordeal of being separated from his wife and children, and the process of reconnecting and building. New life in Adelaide, southern Australia, home to a large Uighur population.
Abdusalam’s parents sent him to Sydney in 2009 to study English, and his father told him he should not return to Xinjiang.
In high school, he describes clashing with Han students, who claim he is also Chinese.
“They told me ‘you guys are extremists,'” he told Al Jazeera.
Once he got to know his classmates better, Abdusalam said it became clear that they were only parodying messages promoted by state media.
“Now, I don’t even blame the Chinese for what they believe.”
Abdusalam met Wumaier, who lives in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, through online friends in 2015. The two married later that year.
Despite being used to a long-distance relationship, the couple’s lives are entangled in what Amnesty International has described as “dystopian hell scenecharacterized by mass surveillance, detention, and accusations of torture.
Uighurs who travel abroad or have overseas networks – like Wumaier – have reported being identified as part of what Chinese authorities see as efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism. violent extremism.
When Abdusalam said with Australian and international media about his case, Wumaier would be harassed by police in Xinjiang, he said.
Michael Bradley, Abdusalam’s lawyer and co-author of the book, initially felt the opportunity to bring Wumaier and Lutfi to Australia was “hopeless”.
“[But Abdusalam] very tenacious, in his tenacity, and he clearly won’t give up. So I feel, we’re going to need to do this and see what we can achieve,” Bradley told Al Jazeera.
Learning to be a father
The first hurdle is that Lutfi is not an Australian citizen.
Bradley said once they had obtained a passport for Lutfi, it was a matter of keeping Abdusalam’s case in the headlines and continuing to put political pressure on the Australian government to continue the “channel” negotiations. later” with Chinese partners.
“We were hoping that there would be some kind of political leverage and maybe, maybe even, some basic humanity at play,” he said.
In mid-2020, for reasons still unknown, Wumaier was informed by Chinese police that her passport would be returned.
Due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions and flight cancellations in late 2020, it took them around 50 hours to fly from Urumqi to Australia – via Shanghai, Nanyang, Hong Kong and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea – before upon arrival in Brisbane, where they spent two weeks in hotel isolation. Only then can they proceed to Sydney.
The book describes “the last moment of my life alone”, as Abdusalam ran towards Wumaier and Lutfi at Sydney airport.
Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said Abdusalam’s story was a “really important story of hope”.
“He really achieved the impossible, he was able to get his family out.”
Abdusalam said his happy ending was bittersweet for Australia’s Uighur community, many of whom are still unable to contact relatives in Xinjiang and uncertain of their fate. their.
“Most of the people I know want to come back [to Xinjiang]. At the end of the day, that’s where we were born. My friends, relationships, relatives, everyone is there,” he said.
“But [returning] – that will never happen. “
Abdusalam and Wumaier have their own set of challenges. Having only met Lutfi via video calls before 2020, Abdusalam told Al Jazeera: “I call myself dad. But honestly, I [didn’t] really knows how to be a father. “
His wife also has a heartbreak in Xinjiang.
“Even [Wumaier] see police officers in uniform or [hears] siren, it still triggered her a little bit,” he said.
“I don’t think we’re 100% like, a normal couple. We are still struggling mentally… [but] We believe we can both continue.”
The couple now have another son, 10-month-old Latif, whose name in Uyghur means “kind”.
Family is separated
Since around the time the Chinese Communist Party began its crackdown against “extremism” in Xinjiang in 2017, Abdusalam’s elderly parents have been in the United States.
While they have been granted asylum and green cards, life is still difficult.
“It’s not easy, they can’t speak English well… They remember every minute. They want to go back there. Back to Xinjiang,” said Abdusalam.
“I told my parents that you should feel lucky not to be in the camp. … [but] they don’t really worry about being sent to a concentration camp.”
Pearson of Human Rights Watch says the Australian government needs to “redouble efforts to advocate on behalf of Uighur Australians for their loved ones and loved ones still stranded in Xinjiang”.
“The Chinese government needs to realize that it should not effectively use the Uighurs as hostages,” she said.
“These are crimes against humanity being committed, and they need to know that there will be consequences from the international community if they commit such crimes.”
The Chinese Embassy in Australia did not respond to questions submitted by Al Jazeera.
Abdusalam hopes that Australia’s new labor government will be more proactive in promoting the protection of human rights in Asia, including the Uighurs.
“I met [now Australian Foreign Minister] Penny Wong when I went to parliament before the election,” he said.
“I have a pretty good feeling they will do more to help our people. I also thought to send one of my books to Penny Wong’s office. Hopefully she will read it.”