Uyghur Muslims in Turkey strongly urged United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday to investigate allegations of rights abuses, torture, genocide and so-called "re-education camps" during her upcoming visit to China's Xinjiang province this month.
Turkey's 50,000-strong Uyghur community has staged daily protests outside the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul over the past few years, holding pictures of their relatives and family members with whom they lost touch for months, and even years.
In March, Bachelet said she would pay a visit to China, including Xinjiang, in May, after an agreement with Beijing, as rights advocates mounted pressure that her office releases its long-postponed report on the rights situation there.
"I am calling on the U.N. rights chief to walk freely in the concentration camps and talk freely with the people, without surveillance cameras or without the presence of Chinese police, to reveal to the world the human rights situation there," Mirza Ahmet Ilyasoglu, an Uyghur living in Turkey, told a press conference in Istanbul.
"Because if the U.N. goes there and listens to the one-sided Chinese thesis ... it would come up with a completely false report which would be very embarrassing for the U.N. and the human rights agency," he said.
Rights groups say that at least 1 million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in "re-education camps" spread across the vast northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where China is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Human rights groups and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say are mass detentions, forced labor, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilization. Washington has described it as genocide.
China strongly denies the allegations and says it is running vocational training programs and work schemes to help stamp out "extremism" in the region.
'Free our relatives'
Medine Nazimi, an Uyghur woman whose sister is held in one of the camps in Xinjiang, demanded "true answers" about her whereabouts, holding a picture of her with the writing "China, Release my sister!".
"We want the United Nations to go to our homeland, we want you to check everything. Don't believe the Chinese government, you have to believe us," she said.
"My sister is only one of the concentration camp victims ... Where is she? Is she healthy? Is she okay? I don't know," said Nazimi, who has not received any news from her sister for five years.
"The Chinese government separated us from our loved ones. We don't get any information about them. We want the U.N. to close the concentration camps and rescue our family members."
Speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP), 50-year-old Fatma Aziz claimed that the Chinese government forced her relatives to stay at home ahead of the U.N. visit, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.
"My aunt is stuck with her two kids in Kashgar. The Chinese jailed her husband just because he recited the Quran," Aziz said.
"We want the U.N. to free our relatives."
Aziz fled to Turkey in 2015 along with her husband and five children.
Uyghurs speak a Turkic language and have cultural ties with predominantly Muslim Turkey, which makes it a favored destination for avoiding persecution back home.
Gulden Sonmez, a Turkish lawyer, hoped that the U.N. rights chief would be able to walk the streets of Xinjiang unfettered.
"If she succeeds, she will see this truth: the lands of East Turkestan have nearly completely been transformed into concentration camps. We are talking about millions of people," she said.
In January, a group of Uyghurs lodged a criminal complaint with a Turkish prosecutor against Chinese authorities, accusing them of rape, torture and forced labor./AFP