Tuhan’s family fled persecution in China’s western Xinjiang region by crossing the border into Afghanistan 45 years ago.
Now that the Taliban has taken control of the country, she fears that she and other ethnic Uyghurs will be deported to China by Taliban members eager to curry favor with Beijing, which has been accused of genocide against the Muslim minority.
Tuhan, who hides her identity from the Taliban by using a pseudonym, is torn between a homeland where Uyghurs are facing increasing repression and an adopted country where they are treated as outsiders.
What concerns them the most is the possibility of deportation to China.
The Chinese government has intensified its security and religious crackdown in Xinjiang in recent years. According to the US State Department, up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have passed through a sprawling network of detention centers across the region.
Former detainees claim they were subjected to political indoctrination, forced labor, torture, and even sexual abuse while in custody. China vehemently denies any human rights violations, insisting that the camps are voluntary “vocational training centers” aimed at combating religious extremism and terrorism.
Tuhan expressed concern about what would happen if she and her family were forced to return.
“All these past years, life was difficult … But what is happening now is the worst,” she said, referring to the Taliban takeover. “It is just a matter of time before (the Taliban) find out that we are Uyghurs. Our lives are in danger.”
Tuhan and her parents fled Yarkand, an oasis on the ancient Silk Road near the Chinese border with Afghanistan, when she was just seven years old.
Kabul was known as the “Paris of the East” at the time, and it was a haven for ethnic Uyghurs fleeing China’s Cultural Revolution, a decade of political and social turmoil that lasted from 1966 to 1976 and saw Islam, like all other religions, harshly repressed.
According to Sean Roberts, a George Washington University professor and author of “The War on the Uyghurs,” Tuhan is one of up to 3,000 Uyghurs in Afghanistan, making them a tiny minority in the country of more than 37 million people.
After the Communist Party took control of Xinjiang in 1949, many of them fled China. Some, like Tuhan, migrated in the mid-1970s, during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution’s final years, crossing mountain passes in Xinjiang’s south to seek refuge, according to Roberts.
According to an ID photo shared with CNN and the accounts of two Uyghurs, many of the Uyghurs now have Afghan citizenship, but their identification cards still identify them as Chinese refugees, including second generation immigrants.
Even though Abdul Aziz Naseri was born in Kabul, his ID still lists him as a “China refugee,” despite the fact that his parents fled Xinjiang in 1976.
Naseri, who now resides in Turkey, claims to have gathered the names of over 100 Uyghur families seeking to flee Afghanistan.
“Because the Taliban dealt with China behind closed doors, they are afraid of China. They are also afraid of being sent back to China “he stated
Experts say Uyghurs in Afghanistan have reason to be concerned.
A high-profile Taliban delegation visited Tianjin in July, where they met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang described the Taliban as “an important military and political force in Afghanistan” who would play a “key role” in the country’s peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction efforts.