UI RSOs aim to raise awareness for Uighur Muslims 

The profile picture of the Instagram account unite4uighursuiuc is pictured above.

Photo Courtesy of unite4uighursuiuc's Instagram

The profile picture of the Instagram account “unite4uighursuiuc” is pictured above.

By Mona Alrazzaq, Staff Writer

University RSOs are currently working to spread awareness and raise money for Uighur Muslims, a Chinese ethnic group with members being held in what Chinese officials refer to as  “re-education centers.”

“Re-education centers” are also referred to as “concentration camps”, “internment camps” and “detention centers” by various media outlets and human rights groups. They are currently estimated to hold at least 1 million people from the Uighur Muslim community, according to BBC

In these camps, members of this ethnic community are often detained “to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak,” and forced to work in food and manufacturing industries with no pay, according to the Associated Press.

A statement by the University’s Muslim Student Association, that will be released in early February, calls for students to join them and “condemn acts of exploitation and forced labor, rooted in systems of oppression and abuse of marginalized communities.”

Pakistani Student Association, the Black Muslim Student Association and the Graduate Employees Organization are some of the organizations that sponsored the statement. 

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Yousuf Ahmad, junior in Engineering, is a volunteer who is part of this initiative. He encourages students to actively participate in signing petitions, raising awareness and protesting with the eventual goal of getting “university administration involved and to divest from companies that use forced labor.”  

This group of students also work with a larger international student coalition named “Free Uyghur Now” that advocates for the freedom of Uighurs and Turkic people in “forced labor and internment camps,” according to their Instagram page. 

Over 70 college campuses in the United States and in Europe work with this organization. 

A co-lead of the corporate accountability team for Free Uyghur Now, Kewsar, spoke about the importance of this cause to him since his father was detained by Chinese officials when he was in high school.

Kewsar grew up in the region and moved to the United States for high school. Around 2017, his father was detained by Chinese officials and forced to stay in the “re-education centers” for almost two years. 

“This suppression has been going on for decades, but this extreme commision that is going on now with arbitrary detention has been happening for three or four years,” Kewsar said. 

Once his father was released, Kewsar spoke out regarding his experience and what it was like for him and his family. He then lost all contact with his family shortly after he published the video. 

“In the free world, I’m not free to speak up because my family and friends and everyone who is back home … anything I do here can hurt them,” Kewsar said. 

Kewsar talked about how this personal experience and identity have motivated him to become more involved. 

On the corporate accountability team, students and advocates from different college campuses work to “hold companies accountable for working with China and using Uighur forced labor,” according to Kewsar. 

“If we really work together we can put pressure on companies and see results. Being part of a larger initiative is definitely more impactful,” Ahmad said. 

Hana Fakhoury, sophomore in AHS, is also a volunteer for the initiative. She is heavily involved in “distribution of knowledge” to the University’s student body and has done a lot of research on the cause because of how important of an issue it is, according to Fakhoury.

She mentioned how one of her main goals is “raising awareness and letting people know that we have the power to help or to make a change.” Fakhoury said she believes a lot of people are not aware of what’s going on as of right now.

There are plans in the first week of February for a “teach-in” where people can learn more about this cause, a booth where stickers and pins will be on sale and a protest planned shortly after. 

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