Meet the young British activists battling to end Uighur genocide
There is an estimated 1.5 million Uighurs who have been detained and sent to concentration camps, stripped of their Muslim identity and undergone abuse due to their culture and faith. The Chinese Communist Party has been accused of cracking down on its Uighur minority in East Turkestan, also known as the Uighur Autonomous Region of China, leaving many families displaced.
As countries around the world have started to acknowledge the severity of the situation in Xinjiang, young British activists are making an impact in raising awareness about the plight of Uighurs and taking a stand against the numerous human rights violations that they have been subjected to.
Dilnaz Karim, 18, is a Uighur Muslim woman who lives in London. She is actively campaigning after her family lost contact with many of their relatives living in Xinjiang since 2015.
“The last time I saw my grandmother, aunts and uncles was in 2011 when I was on a visit to East Turkestan with my mum and brother. It has now been six years and we haven’t heard from them,” Dilnaz Karim told The New Arab.
Dilnaz's own father was imprisoned for a year for teaching Islam in East Turkestan before being released and fleeing to Kazakhstan and then went to Norway before bringing the family down to London
Dilnaz says her family have sought assistance from their local MP to get information from the Chinese embassy about the whereabouts of their family. The Chinese embassy had issued a letter to the family stating that her grandmother, uncle and aunts were ‘happy and living a normal life’.
“I definitely know this is untrue and that they are not living a happy life now. The letter that the Chinese embassy had sent, said that we would be able to contact our family members, but we have not been able to have contact with them for over six years.”
She recounts how her own father was imprisoned for a year for teaching Islam in East Turkestan before being released and fleeing to Kazakhstan and then went to Norway before bringing the family down to London.
“When my father had come out of prison he was not even in the position to stand as he was physically and mentally abused, but he managed to escape the country. I worry about the condition of my other relatives still left in East Turkestan”.
Karim and her family have been actively protesting outside the Chinese embassy for years.
“The first time we peacefully stood outside the embassy was back in 2016 when there were only around two- three families protesting about the situation of Uighurs,” she explains.
“I then started sharing short posts on Instagram raising awareness and didn’t realise how much it picked up until I was labelled as an activist.”
Dilnaz uses her activism as a means to take a stand for all the persecuted Uighurs and raise awareness.
“I really love my family in East Turkestan and had the best moments of my childhood with them. Even thinking about them and not knowing whether they are alive or in concentration camps makes me so upset,” she tells The New Arab.
Dilnaz says she uses her activism as a way of helping her cope with the separation of her loved ones and hopes that one day she will be able to reunite with them.
“Sometimes I cannot concentrate on my school work. At home we do all the Uighur cultural things such as speak the language, eat the food and have traditional Uighur dresses, but looking at them just reminds me of my relatives.”
Jaya Pathak, 23, is an activist of British-Indian heritage and the Co-Executive Director of Yet Again UK – an organisation she founded with two friends to shine a light on human rights violations. Her mum was born in Kenya and her father was born in Punjab but then moved to Uganda. Both parents were forced to move from Uganda during a period of unrest in the country when minority Asians were being pushed out.
From a young age, Jaya has been helping fellow activists to promote social media campaigns, organise protests and events and spread the message out to revive a movement calling out those in power over human rights violations. She believes that young people have the power to make an impact.
“We created Yet Again UK last August as we had an interest in human rights and want to give young people the opportunity to get involved and be empowered to do something about human rights issues such as genocide,” Jaya Pathak told The New Arab.
"I have learnt so much more since the atrocities of genocide of the Holocaust. A few years ago I read an article in the media about the Uighurs and... I was wondering why are there not more people speaking about them"
Jaya recalls her early interest in advocating for human rights as stemming from her own family’s lived experiences.
“I heard a lot of stories about partition and always grew up with an understanding of how it felt to be a minority and how our ancestors and generations before you had experienced discrimination and persecution.”
At the age of seven, Jaya recounts hearing about concentration camps and years later she decided to volunteer with a Holocaust education charity.
“I have learnt so much more since the atrocities of genocide of the Holocaust. A few years ago I read an article in the media about the Uighurs and it struck me as I had been following what had been happening in Tibet. I was wondering why are there not more people speaking about the Uighurs?
“That’s when I got more heavily involved and began to raise awareness of what’s going on, researched and wrote articles about the situation.”
The latest support for the genocide amendment bill in the UK was also something Jaya had been actively working on where she supported young people to lobby and write to their MP and campaign.
“There is a cycle of continuing impunity. There is a constant flow of events that shows that something needs to be changed and we as a generation have to make that change."
Jaya believes that young people can make an impact and says, “We have seen the physical difference where actions on a micro-level make a difference on a macro-level in terms of the genocide amendment for the Uighurs.” She hopes to continue her advocacy to spearhead change.
Jonathan Gibson, 17, is currently in college studying for his A-levels but is already the Executive Director of his own organisation called Burst the Bubble. The youth-run social action project, focuses on raising awareness to create dialogue between people about important issues facing our society.
"When you learn that there are concentration camps operating today it is echoes of the past that have still not been dealt with"
Jonathan's family had suffered during the Holocaust and he strives so that genocide doesn't take place anywhere in the world again.
“I am from a Jewish background and when I went to Poland I remember hearing about how my family was heavily affected from the Holocaust. When you learn that there are concentration camps operating today it is echoes of the past that have still not been dealt with,” he told The New Arab.
With a small team of individuals, Jonathan runs campaigns highlighting stories of Uighurs who have been separated from their families and the persecution they had faced.
One such campaign he has run was the ‘Free Epkar’ campaign highlighting the plight of a US-based Uighur called Epkar Asat, who on a professional visit to China, was arrested for 15 years and sent to a concentration camp since 2016”.
“We organised for young people from 18 different countries to hold a ‘Free Epkar’ poster and we also designed shirts and posters bearing Epkar’s photo to highlight his plight and raise awareness," he explains.
Jonathan hopes to humanise the faces behind the statistics we see on the news and continues to share the plight of Uighurs with the hope of creating positive change.
Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others.
Follow her on Twitter: @TasnimNazeer1