Ontario Uighur Muslims call for more action following Canada's genocide vote

·4 min read
Rukiye Turdush says more than 30 of her cousins have been arrested in Xinjiang.
Rukiye Turdush says more than 30 of her cousins have been arrested in Xinjiang.

(Submitted by Rukiye Turdush - image credit)

The House of Commons' vote declaring China's treatment of the Uighurs a genocide has drawn mixed reaction from two Ontario Uighur Muslims who know of loved ones affected by China's actions.

While they appreciate the acknowledgement, they feel Canada needs to take action against China and hold it accountable for its persecution of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

The vote took place on Monday and 266 MPs voted in favour and zero opposed. Two MPs formally abstained.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and most of his cabinet colleagues were absent for the vote. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was the only cabinet minister present. When it was his turn, he said he abstained "on behalf of the Government of Canada."

Anwar Abdurahman, a Uighur resident of London, Ont., found this disappointing.

"I feel mixed feelings about it. First of all, I am glad all the MPs stood up against the pressure from China, but at the same time, I'm disappointed with our prime minister and cabinet ministers because they decided to abstain," he said, adding that he wished Canada would take action to stop the genocide instead of debating whether it should be deemed as one.

Anwar Abdurahman, a Uighur resident of London, Ont., found it disappointing that the Liberal government abstained from voting on Monday.
Anwar Abdurahman, a Uighur resident of London, Ont., found it disappointing that the Liberal government abstained from voting on Monday.

"At least this is a huge step ahead I guess, given the pressure of the Chinese government," he continued.

Rukiye Turdush, who lives in St. Catharines, Ont., and is an alumna of the University of Windsor, said she feels supported but agrees that more needs to be done.

"I can't say we feel so happy, but we feel satisfied and we feel recognition and we feel that justice is done with us. We feel that we are not alone," she said.

"Just saying the word genocide cannot stop the genocide," she continued. "But this is a very important step. It's a starting point."

Turdush and Abdurahman urge the Canadian government to impose Magnitsky Act sanctions on Chinese officials in response to human rights violations by the regime.

"If they don't stop the genocide, they have to pay a price. They have to know that. They have to let them know the consequences. I think economic sanction and using the Magnitsky Act, punishing the Chinese officials who is implementing [the] genocide," Turdush said, adding that the country should boycott Chinese products and push to relocate next year's Olympic games.

Abdurahman said he wants Canada to work with other Western allies and take charge so other countries follow suit.

"Give more pressure on China to stop these kind of atrocities," Abdurahman said. "They should be [held] accountable and they should be punished. They should be brought to the International Criminal Court."

According to Amnesty International, an estimated one million or more people have been detained in Chinese detention camps — something the Chinese government calls "re-education camps" — since 2017 where they have "endured a litany of human rights violations."

'You don't know if they're alive or dead'

Turdush and Abdurahman both believe they have family and friends that are detained.

Turdush said she had more than 30 cousins that she knows of who've been arrested. Those that have been released, she said, are afraid to speak out.

Abdurahman said it feels "disturbing" not having closure over his loved ones.

"I feel like even if you know someone passed away, that you will think, 'OK, he passed away, so rest in peace,' but [it's the] most disturbing [when] you don't know someone you love ... [is] still alive or if they're still in the camp. If they're alive or dead," he said.

Label brings hope to community, says Turdush

While they hope some change will come of the vote, Turdush said the label brings her and other Uighurs hope during a time where they feel helpless.

"I feel like we're not alone in this world. For the first time that I feel in my country, in Canada, I feel like I'm not alone in this world," she said.

"There is [an] ongoing genocide and these people already almost lost hope. So this message is giving them hope and they feel that they are not alone. And still that justice exists in this world."