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March of the Uyghurs

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Together, we visited the Zeitinburnu neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul, where we met Erkin's colleagues, who took us on a 'tour' of significant Uyghur 'landmarks', including the office where Uyghurs have been recruited, allowed to work semi-legally, and then, many of them, sent to Syria and Iraq.

There are approximately 50,000 Uyghurs living in Turkey (10 million live in China and all over the world). Zeitinburnu, has the greatest concentration of Uyghurs in the country. Here they own businesses, restaurants. Old people enjoy a relaxed life, drinking tea and leading endless conversations in public places.

But this tranquil mood is only a façade. Here is where many Uyghurs arrive. From here, they get injected abroad, where they learn their deadly 'trade', how to become hardened and merciless fighters. They go to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or as far as Indonesia.

As early as on April 9, 2015, BGNNews.com in Istanbul, reported:

"The network is based out of Zeytinburnu, a district on Istanbul's European side which is home to a community of Uighurs who live in Turkey. It is headed by Nurali T, a businessman who has been facilitating the movement of Uighurs from China to Syria and Iraq via Turkey since 2011. He is known by his code name Abbas. An individual who works for him, AG, says that a total of 100,000 fake Turkish passports have been produced, 50,000 of which have been shipped to China to be handed to fighters recruited to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

According to the article Uighurs are joining the fight, traveling from China through Thailand and Cambodia before reaching Malaysia, which has no visa requirements with Turkey. A fee of USD 200 is taken from the recruits.

The fighters then spend a night in Istanbul in motels, hotels or safe-house apartments before heading to Turkey's Southeast and East the next day to cross into Syria and Iraq.

The individuals carrying fake passports are often caught at the airport in Istanbul. As to why they have been able to enter Turkey and not get deported, AG says, "Turkey has secret dealings with the Uighurs. The authorities first confiscate the passports but then release the individuals."

Immigration office in Izmir, Turkey, which processes Uyghurs
Immigration office in Izmir, Turkey, which processes Uyghurs
(Image by Andre Vltchek)
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Erkin and his friend talk about the present situation in Turkey. And about what Uyghurs are expected to achieve:

"Members of TIP Turkistan Islamic Party - are repeatedly saying that 'in Syria we are training for jihad, and we will go back to China, and fight."

The question is, how would Uyghur fighters be moved back to China; from both Turkey, but especially from Syria?

Erkin replied:

"My theory is, that China is on high alert, and if the fighters would be sent first from Syria to Turkey, and then to China, it could be done only if the ID's were changed and falsified. Because China has names, it has lists, and it has information. If Turkey decides to secretly change their ID's, and sends them to China, it could be possible, but, as you said yourself earlier, the Afghan route is also possible. The IS fighters are also gathering there, the TIP is gathering there, in Afghanistan; some parts of the Western Afghanistan tip, which is not far from the border with China. I think that TIP will try to go directly to China, but most of the attempts will fail. They will attack from Afghanistan. As you know, Russia recently declared that the IS has formed a new caliphate in Afghanistan, which would fortify the jihadi climate in the country. Turkey will try to send a number of Uyghur fighters there, although I don't know how many.

I also think that Turkey will try to divide Uyghurs into two groups. You know that Uyghurs always travel with their families. Sending them anywhere with the families is very hard. But sending fighters first, and then 'deporting' the families, is another thing. Deporting the families could be done under 'humanitarian cover'. So, I think, the fighters will go first, secretly, and then, families will be deported."

But where would the families be 'deported' to? To China?

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