ALMATY -- A group of ethnic Kazakhs originally from China have urged the U.S. and Russian presidents to help secure the release of their relatives whom they say are being held at so-called “reeducation camps” in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Some 30 Kazakhs from Xinjiang's Barkol-Kazakh Autonomous County made the call during a January 28 gathering at the Almaty office of the nongovernmental organization Atazhurt Volunteers.
In a statement read out in the English and Russian languages, the participants urged U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to press for the release of their relatives.
They said that their relatives had been detained while traveling between their native Xinjiang and the border with Kazakhstan or had been prevented from leaving China to join their families in Kazakhstan.
The United Nations said in August that an estimated 1 million Muslims from Xinjiang, including ethnic Kazakhs, were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN also said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps.
In August, a court in Almaty refused to extradite Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen who was wanted in China for illegal border crossing.
Sauytbay fled China in April and testified in the Almaty court that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps."
She testified that Chinese authorities had forced her to train "political ideology" instructors for reeducation camps, giving her access to secret documents about what she called a state program to "reeducate" Muslims from indigenous ethnic communities.
On January 28, the Almaty regional police department official, Elmurat Nurseitov, said that Sauytbay's asylum-seeker status had been prolonged until April 25.
Uyghurs are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs, and the region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China's largest ethnicity, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
After Kazakhstan gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere benefited from Kazakhstan's state program on resettlement of ethnic Kazakhs into the country.
Those who obtained permanent residence in Kazakhstan or Kazakh citizenship have continued to visit their relatives in Xinjiang on a regular basis.
In recent months, Kazakh settlers from China held several public rallies in Almaty to protest against Beijing's policies in Xinjiang – a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan.
China is a major trading partner for the Central Asian nation, and the Kazakh state-controlled media have generally avoided reporting about the internment centers in Xinjiang.