The Australian government has called on China to release a young Australian boy and his mother who have been unable to leave Xinjiang since 2017.
The request comes just days after Australia co-signed a letter denouncing China’s treatment of Muslims in the far western border region, where experts estimate up to 2 million people have been detained in vast re-education-style camps.
Allegations of abuse inside the camps are rampant, including in accounts given to CNN by former detainees describing forced education under the threat of violence. Beijing denies any allegations of torture or political indoctrination, and says the camps are “vocational training centers” designed to fight terrorism and combat Islamic extremism.
The boy’s father, Australian citizen Sadam Abudusalamu, said he has been trying to raise awareness of his family’s situation ever since his wife Nadila had her passport confiscated by authorities in April 2018, leaving her trapped in China with their young son.
Abudusalamu has never held his son Lufty, who will turn two in August.
In a statement Wednesday, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the country’s embassy in Beijing had “formally requested” that Chinese authorities allow Nadila and Lufty to leave the country. “The department continues to provide assistance to the family,” the statement said.
The Australian government confirmed in their statement that Lufty was an Australian citizen. Abudusalamu said he had been an Australian citizen since 2013.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that he hadn’t seen the statement from the Australian government.
“I can tell you this: If Australia have provided relevant details to China through bilateral channels, China will offer necessary assistance as we have always done,” he said.
The intervention from the Australian government follows a documentary by the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Four Corners, which featured Abudusalamu and his family as part of an examination into the broader Chinese government crackdown in Xinjiang.
Abudusalamu and Nadila grew up and met in Xinjiang. Both are ethnic Uyghurs, the Muslim majority group who have historically called Xinjiang home.
Abudusalamu told CNN that he was happy the Australian government had reached out to China to help secure his family’s release, but remained concerned for their well being.
“I want Marise Payne to call China’s ambassador in Canberra, I want her to call the Chinese authorities in Beijing, that’s what I’m hoping for,” he said. “I want access to Urumqi to see my son.”
According to Abudusalamu, his wife wanted to give birth in the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi, in 2017 to be with her family, who still live in the region. When Abudusalamu tried to join her, he found it difficult to get a visa, then after the crackdown began he felt it was too dangerous to travel to Xinjiang.
Right after the ABC documentary aired, Abudusalamu said Nadila contacted him to say the police had interrogated her, asking questions about her husband’s work and address in Australia.
He said she won’t talk much about the situation in Xinjiang for fear of being taken away from their son or put into one of the detention centers.
“How could you do that kind of thing? … Who could do these things to a 2-year-old baby,” he said.
Abudusalamu strongly denied Beijing’s counter-terrorism justification for the crackdown in Xinjiang.
“If there are extremists, if there are terrorists, I should be the one doing the bad things because I lost everything. My family, my job, I can’t concentrate working full time anymore because of what’s happened,” he said. “But still I’m following the rules, doing every legal action I can.”