Opinion: Dear Olympians: Can anyone help me reach my family?January 30, 2022
I am a Uyghur living in the United States, and I have not been able to contact my family since March 2017. Whenever I attempt to call anyone back home in Xinjiang, all I get is a busy line, no matter how many times a day or what time of day I call. No one replies to my emails, either.
I am not alone. Every Uyghur I know living outside of China has been experiencing the same problems.
During my last call to one of my sisters in early 2017, I was asked not to call anymore, because her husband was detained by the authorities for having spoken to me on the phone. I was surprised, because we had always been very careful about what we spoke about; we knew our conversation could be secretly monitored by authorities. I promised not to call for a while. Then, a few weeks later, the news about the internment camps in Xinjiang started coming out. Worried, I broke my promises and called my sisters, nephews, relatives, friends — anyone I knew.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, I kept calling at different times of the day, but I could not connect with anyone . . . I learned from international news of the detentions of some of my friends and former neighbors who happened to be prominent Uyghurs. That added to my anxiety about my family . . . I was constantly concerned about the well-being of my four sisters and their families, and my other relatives and friends. But I was still not able to contact anyone.
Then one day, about a year ago, one of my sisters left me a WhatsApp message from a telephone number registered in Turkey. I called back, only to find that the call was from a national security police officer, one of the very people who are the primary enforcers of the ongoing genocide against Uyghurs.