China asked to let Australian child, Uighur mother leave

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne. Photo: Collected
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne. Photo: Collected

Australia's government on Wednesday called on China to allow an Australian child and his Uighur mother to leave the country, days after co-signing a letter denouncing Beijing's treatment of the Muslim minority.

China has rounded up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities into re-education camps in tightly controlled Xinjiang region, in the country's northwest.

Sadam Abdusalam has campaigned for months for his Uighur wife, Nadila Wumaier, and their son Lutifeier, whom he has never met, to be allowed to come to Australia.

Australia's embassy has "formally requested that the Chinese authorities allow Ms Wumaier and her son (who is an Australian citizen) to travel to Australia", foreign minister Marise Payne said Wednesday.

The statement came after Abdusalam, an Australian citizen, shared his plight publicly for the first time during a documentary on the Xinjiang camps aired Monday on national broadcaster ABC.

He told AFP that his wife was taken in for questioning by Chinese authorities the following day, but was later released.

Payne said that she was aware of the reports that Wumaier was interrogated, but added that diplomats had no consular access rights as she was not an Australian citizen.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that he had not seen the Australian statement.

"If the Australian side provides China with detailed relevant information through bilateral channels, China will provide the necessary assistance," he said.

Canberra had initially denied citizenship to Lutifeier, who was born in Xinjiang in August 2017, but backtracked last year following a legal battle.

Abdusalam said he was "really happy" that Australia was taking action, but called on officials to do more.

"I'm going to keep trying to keep pressure on China and keep pressure on the Australian government," he told AFP.

"On 31 August he will be two years old," Abdusalam said of Lutifeier.

"I would like to see my son before 31 August so we can celebrate his birthday as a family."

Australian lawyers representing the family are urging Canberra to fast-track a visa for Wumaier.

"Bringing this family together safely is the goal," Marque Lawyers wrote on Twitter.

Escalating tensions
Canberra has traditionally been keen to avoid friction with its biggest trading partner, but tensions between the two countries have escalated over security concerns and Beijing's growing presence in the Pacific.

Australia was among 22 countries, along with Britain, Canada and Japan, that last week wrote to top United Nations officials condemning China's treatment of ethnic minorities.

Beijing downplays the camps as "vocational education centres" aimed at steering people away from religious extremism through job training, Mandarin lessons and law classes.

It has blocked Australian diplomats from visiting Xinjiang since early 2017 and said Monday's ABC programme on the facilities was "full of lies, distortion and bias".