The day before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, the American media outlet “National Public Radio” (NPR) published a lengthy article—for the first time—with two Uyghur children who had been stranded in Xinjiang for 20 months and sent to boarding schools.

NPR spoke with Abdüllatif Kuçar’s family, who came to Turkey in 1986. He has been between Istanbul and Urumqi for many years because he still has relations in Xinjiang and imports and exports cotton and leather there.

He came to Urumqi in 2015 with his wife and two children, 6-year-old daughter Aysu and 4-year-old son Lütfullah, to visit relatives. This time, Chinese authorities seized their passports, forcing them to remain in Xinjiang and preventing them from returning to Turkey.

In 2017, the Chinese government deported Kuçar to Turkey and barred him from returning to China. His wife, Meryem Aimati, had to stay in Xinjiang to care for the two children after a refusal to return their passports, which he believes is only a temporary problem. 

NPR interviewed Aysu and Lütfullah at a boarding school, reveals a sequence of harrowing experiences. For example, the children yell Chinese political slogans and sing patriotic songs and accolades to Xi Jinping and Wang Junzheng. Wang Jun is the former secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and the previous top leader of Xinjiang.

According to the study, the number of residential schools in Xinjiang is growing, ostensibly to “improve education.” However, Uyghurs claim many of the children enrolled in these schools have parents who have been jailed or imprisoned.

The two toddlers claimed that the terrifying part was being locked in a cellar for hours in complete darkness. They said the boarding school would send older students to “supervise” younger students, which was frequently the start of bullying.

Meryem Aimati was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Urumqi in 2019. Aimati was already too feeble to hug Kuçar when he came to see her. He told “NPR” that he had given up hope of surviving at first, but when seeing two children, he was determined to stay for them.

Aysu and Lütfullah, still suffering from their trauma, now in Turkey, hid when people come to see them and request permission to bathe or eat. To prevent his children from remembering the horrors of being locked in a pitch-black basement at a boarding school in Xinjiang, the father will not turn off the lights at home 24 hours a day.

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