John* (name changed to protect identity), a foreign national residing in China, contacted the staff at Campaign for Uyghurs to report the disappearance of a Uyghur girl we will call Arzu that he had gotten to know in the city he lives in. This is their story.
“She came to my city during the pandemic.” John tells us, his voice tense and his words somewhat panicked. He has been getting to know Arzu for several months now, and as of June 18, 2020, she has disappeared. “That day, she said they were calling her to come back to Xinjiang because the authorities came to pick up her sister’s husband… she was in tears and panicking. I really feel very stupid now for having let her go.” John continued, “Just please help me. I will also try my possible best here anything I can to help her.” His desperation evident, it was painful to hear the weight of the previously unknown realizations of what was happening to the Uyghurs hit home for him.
“..she deleted my contact before she left.” John said. “She just wrote my contact somewhere that she will contact me when she gets the chance. How can we help her?” He desperately continued to think out loud. “..if she can come back to my city again what can I do to help her? Maybe get her out of China? Because I think that’s the only safest way because now those in other cities in China are, they are being called to go back.” In the video testimony he filmed for her, he continued, “Why does China accept foreigners and then make their lives a living hell? As a foreigner I am used to lying low, but I can’t anymore. I must do something to help her. What can I do?” His willingness to compromise his safety in China to speak out on the racial discrimination against Africans in China and difficulties faced by all foreigners provided him with the foundation to recognize what the Chinese government would be capable of doing to Uyghurs.
John didn’t know anything about the concentration camps before meeting Arzu. When they met online, he was struck by her intelligence and kindness, but he quickly discovered that she had a very strange pattern of behavior that he didn’t understand and she wouldn’t explain. “Our chat wasn’t consistent. We would be talking and all of a sudden, she would end it and maybe delete me from her contacts.” He says. He began to put together that Arzu was a slave bit by bit as she shared that her job was making face masks, and her video calls to him were from what appeared to be a dormitory, from which she said she couldn’t leave. She would never reveal to John where she worked, saying it was a secret. Only twice in the five months they were speaking was she was able to get away to meet him, and he noticed that she lost a lot of weight in between those two times within two months and she became a lot thinner by the second meeting. “.. she was afraid to tell me much as I first told you.” John said. “ We would be making a video or voice call when I was teaching her English and all of a sudden she would end the call and delete my contact. Then, she would add me again later.”
John recalls, “I tried every means to go and find her but she never gave me her location, continually saying it is secret, I can’t tell anyone, everytime when I ask for her address or where she works. Then one night around 1:00 a.m. she told me she was in some kind of urgent trouble. She asked If I could help her. She told me she has no place to sleep and nowhere to stay. I gave her my location to come around. I waited till the next day and didn’t hear from her again. A few days later she texted me again and told me something happened but she can’t tell me what.
Finally, one Saturday they were able to meet. “She told me she was around my location and so I rushed to meet her. I asked her if she had eaten, she said no. I said we should cook some food so we went to the supermarket together to buy some things to cook with. But when we got to the room she got a call and she was so afraid and panicked just after the call she said she had to go back immediately and she didn’t even wait for me to ask any questions again, she just ran out and that was all. She was gone. I didn’t hear from her for about a week then she texted me again that she was in the dormitory but she told me she was not allowed to go outside. I told her if she can send me her location I will come there, and she told me that it wasn’t possible. I tried to help her with what I had and the little money I could spare to help her buy some food.” Arzu told John that she would come to visit him again if “they” allowed her to go out.
Arzu eventually revealed to John that her mother had died and her father was in a concentration camp, and that when she would go home her phone would be checked by the police who continually called her in for interrogations. She wasn’t allowed to talk to foreigners, she said, hence the constant deletions and adding again.
At the end of his call with CFU, John pleaded again, desperate for options to help his friend. He pleaded for help reaching embassies in the Western countries, and asked if the UN or the U.S. could help her as a refugee. He even asked if it was possibly to sneak her out of the country. How does one explain the depth of corruption and despondency of the inaction of the Western democratic countries, or that the U.N. has been played into cooperation with the Chinese government? The truth hit home in a painful way for this brave foreign resident, when will the rest of the world allow their humanity to triumph?