Dr David Tobin of the University of Sheffield and Nyrola Elimä have completed one of the most extensive studies on the subject yet, interviewing and surveying over two hundred members of the Uyghur diaspora across various states. The Uyghur people are a Turkic ethnic group mainly residing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China.

Their research found that all Uyghurs living beyond China have experienced transnational repression, irrespective of their location. Tobin and Elimä describe their repression as “a set of transnational processes and practices through which local, regional, and global actors, ideologies, and structures suppress Uyghur people’s basic rights, freedoms, and possibilities”.

The Chinese government have been accused of numerous human rights violations towards the Uyghurs, with much of their repression taking on a racialized nature. Internment camps have been built in more rural areas of Xinjiang in order to reeducate large populations of Uyghurs, aiming to assimilate them into Chinese culture. The camps has imposed unlawful restrictions and have inhumane living conditions, with the UN estimating that up to one million people have been interned within.

Human trafficking and forced labor have also been used to repress Uyghurs. China implements highly restrictive mobility policies, such as exit bans, hukou residency registration, and overseas surveillance, that limit the freedom of movement of Uyghurs, making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The research of Tobin and Elimä emphasizes the collective resilience of the Uyghur diaspora, which has become a key form of survival for the Uyghur people. It also highlights how the actions of the Uyghur diaspora within the global context have generated a platform where their voices can’t be easily silenced.

The pair’s study has helped to make the persecution of Uyghurs more widely acknowledged. The United States and United Kingdom have recently increased sanctions, as well as passing numerous attackers on China’s use of forced labor, with the European Union also introducing restrictive measures.

In spite of attempts to put a stop to the repression of Uyghurs, there is still much work that needs to be done in order to ensure their basic rights, freedoms, and possibilities. Tobin and Elimä’s work, raising awareness of these issues, has been imperative in obtaining sustainable change. Even though they can’t directly affect the policies and behaviors of the Chinese government, their research has provided an invaluable and much needed platform to reveal the extent of the transnational repression of Uyghurs.