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'Muslim Tatar' Twins Await Russian Ruling To Avoid Forcible Return To China

Shahrizat and Shahdiyar Shavkat came to Russia's Tatarstan region to study under a World Tatar Congress program four years ago,

Twin Chinese men facing expulsion from Russia since losing contact with their Uyghur father and Tatar mother in China say they fear being sent to a "concentration camp" if their appeal for refugee status is rejected by Russian authorities.

Twenty-three-year-old Shahrizat and Shahdiyar Shavkat came to Russia's Tatarstan region to study under a World Tatar Congress program four years ago, two years before reports began emerging of roundups in western China and widespread use of "reeducation camps" against Uyghurs and other minorities.

Now, the young men are awaiting a ruling from Tatarstan's Supreme Court following a lower court's rejection several months ago of their refugee applications.

Shahrizat told RFE/RL that he was certain that, upon arrival in China, he and his brother "would be taken to a concentration camp because we are Muslim Tatars."

The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities have been interned in a network of Chinese reeducation camps in recent years.

Russia has avoided criticism of China's treatment of its Uyghur minority despite reports of sweeps and massive numbers of detentions of members of that mostly Muslim, ethnic Turkic minority.

Tatarstan, home to a large Tatar population, is one of several mostly Muslim federal subjects in Russia.

The twins moved to Russia to study at Kazan Federal University in Tatarstan's capital in 2015 but lost contact two years later with their Chinese Uyghur father and their Soviet-born, naturalized Chinese mother.

Both young men were expelled from school for failing to make payments for their studies, according to their lawyer, Zuhra Hamroyeva.

Hamroyeva told RFE/RL that she was meeting with university officials on October 11 in an effort to somehow get them reenrolled.

Relatives have told the Shavkats that they believe Chinese authorities forcibly interned their parents.

On October 8, Washington announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials thought to be involved in the internment measures.

That followed U.S. export restrictions the day before targeting facial-recognition technology and other products that could help Chinese authorities spy on their citizens.

Beijing has pursued Chinese Uyghurs abroad, too, successfully arguing in recent years for their repatriation from a handful of countries, from Malaysia to Egypt.

In September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on all countries to reject Beijing's demands to repatriate ethnic Uyghurs to China.