An ethnic Uyghur woman held in Saudi Arabia told AFP Wednesday she feared being deported to China within hours, after authorities told her to prepare to board a flight. 

Buheliqiemu Abula and her 13-year-old daughter have been in custody in Saudi Arabia since being detained in Mecca earlier this month. 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo: B.alotaby via Wikimedia Commons.

Their case has drawn statements of concern from rights groups including Amnesty International, which on Wednesday urged Saudi authorities to halt any deportation plans. It warned that the pair were “at grave risk of being taken to repressive internment camps if sent back to China.” 

Reached by phone Wednesday night several hours after Amnesty issued its statement, Abula told AFP she was in a “deportation prison in Riyadh” and had been informed she would be deported later in the night. 

Speaking in broken English, she said she had been held in the facility with her daughter for “a while”. 

Earlier in the day they were administered Covid-19 tests, an apparent part of deportation preparations, Amnesty said in a statement. 

Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment. 

Abula is the ex-wife of Nuermeiti Ruze, one of two Uyghur men who have been held in Saudi Arabia since November 2020, according to Amnesty. 

The men’s whereabouts were unknown Wednesday night but Amnesty said they were likely being held in the same facility and at elevated risk of deportation.

China has long been accused of massive human rights abuses against its Uyghur minority, including detaining more than one million people in camps in the vast western region of Xinjiang.

uighur xinjiang
A verified drone shot from 2019 of Uighur prisoners being transferred by train. File photo: Weibo.

The US and several Western parliaments have said China’s policy towards the Uyghurs amounts to “genocide”, but Beijing denies allegations of ill-treatment. 

Amnesty has previously accused China of subjecting Uyghur detainees to indoctrination and torture while sending children to “orphan camps”. 

Saudi human rights group ALQST joined Amnesty’s call for Saudi authorities to halt any planned deportations. 

“Deporting a 13-year old Uyghur girl and her mother to the very country where Uyghurs face relentless, brutal persecution is an appalling act of inhumanity and a breach of Saudi Arabia’s international obligations. It should be stopped,” the group said in a statement to AFP. 

“We urge the world community, through their diplomats in Riyadh and every channel available, to urge the Saudi government to stop their deportation now.”

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