About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Mirqedir Mirzat

Mirqedir Mirzat

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France

East Turkestan

Uyghur

Mirza Durakovic

“For me today, there is only one dream, either it’s independence or death,” says Mirqedir Mirzat (32). A Uyghur from East Turkistan (called Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China) now living in France, he began fighting for Uyghur rights when his mother was taken to a re-education camp. “When my mother was locked up… that day changed me – my vision of life.” He joined the French Uyghur’s Association in 2019 as vice-president and was also elected as the deputy prime minister for the East Turkistan Government in Exile. Mirzat has not returned since 2015 and though he misses his parents, “if one day I go back to China, it means I accept their colonization of my country. I will not accept that.” He says what brings him joy is “my family. They are here, fortunately, in a country that respects human rights, a country of freedom.” He says of his homeland “What leaks out is just 1% of the truth so we can’t imagine what’s going on… our hearts can’t bear it anymore.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello, Mirqedir.
Hello.

Can you introduce yourself?
Okay. Uh, I’m Mirqedir Mirzat, I’m 32 years old. I born in Eastern Turkistan, the capital, uh, I born in capital, Ürumqi, in 1988.  Uh, I’ve been in France since 2008. That’s it.

Okay. And where do you live in France? Do you live in a house, an apartment? Are you happy enough with your living conditions?
Yeah, actually, right now, I’m very happy. I’ve been in France for 13 years, which actually, I did everything I could to get an apartment. So uh, luckily last year, I bought my first apartment. Right now, life, not bad, uh, so yeah. We are, actually, well with COVID, we’re all at home, so.

So do you have a wife, children?
Do I have to talk about everything (laughter)?

No, no, you don’t have to!
Okay. Well, I have three children with my wife, so a small family in France, there are no other cousins, nor my parents, unfortunately. So here today, we’re alone, uh, in France, in our family, and with our friends, in France yeah.

The rest of your family is in Eastern Turkistan?
Yes, they all stayed in Eastern Turkistan.

Do you think about them often?
Of course. Even every day, because it’s been, uh, five years since I, actually, I’ve been back to Eastern Turkistan. Uh, so I haven’t seen them and, actually, it’s like even for my children, when their classmates are dropped off by their grandparents at school, they always asked me: “And where are our grandparents? And why can’t they come here and drop us off at school?” Sometimes that gets to us. So even for my children too, it’s not clear how we can explain it. So still for us, here, we miss them, we miss them a lot. 

And what do you do here in France during the day?  Do you work?  Do you have any passions, hobbies, too, outside of work?
Now, yes I work for a company, so I work every day. Actually even with COVID, we’re work. We can work like, actually in several ways, so I’m still in employment. And aside from my work, I am part of the French Uyghurs Association since 2019. There was an election, big election for the French Uyghurs on January 21, 2019, and I was elected  vice-president of the French Uyghurs Association and since that day I began working in France to support the Uyghur struggle, to ensure listen to the voices of Uyghurs and also uh, to make connections with parliamentarians, etc., to have more of a say in the governing of Uyghurs. And then, at the end of 2019, I was elected as Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of Eastern Turkistan in exile and since that day I have been working in exile for the Government of Eastern Turkistan. And so, I actually work in France, in the association and also as an ambassador of the government in exile for Eastern Turkistan in France, so I do two jobs at the same time and so, most of the time I spend doing this. Yet still, during the day, I work eight hours in my company and then the other hours, I continue with the Uyghur struggle. 

Okay. Do you have, in addition to this political activity, do you have a passion or something complementary. I don’t know, sports or reading, or another passion perhaps?
Uh, actually… Actually, to begin, it is necessary, to really to get into this subject, to tell why I got involved in this struggle, actually. Not all the Uyghurs can, or they, in fact there are many Uyghurs, there are many Uyghurs who want to enter into this conflict against China, a true giant in the world. But there are many people who afraid and also many people who can’t show their faces, it’s actually because of fear.  And there are other people who don’t care because they know they don’t have the courage to do this. And so, since 2018, since April 2018, my mother was taken into a camp, her, actually her, how to say, for the little bit of news that my mother was taken to a concentration camp. That day, uh, actually reality woke me up.  Before that, I was a student and then I became, how to say, someone I was employed, I worked and had my family, private family life, etc., my life was always in order. I was always thinking about my family and my job, and actually, afterwards, about my future. I have lots of plans to, how to say, build my future. But, uh, when my mother was locked up in a concentration camp, that day changed me – my vision of life. And at that moment, I was really asking that: “why?” We live for ourselves, OK, but when someone from your family, especially my mother, especially for a son you’re much closer with your mother, and more, more friendly and even natural with your mother, more than your father, so this event really affected me a lot. And then, after a year of trying, and maybe it’s because of me or perhaps something else because I had started talking to the media, everything that was going on with my mother, etc., for one year, I hadn’t been in contact with her and I started to receive a little news from here-and-there, from my friends or relatives, information slipping out from her mouth while she chatting with them. So I got confirmed that she was in the concentration camp and then I started talking to the media and on social media and, at that point, I realized that it was not just my mother in the camp. There were so many other people. And even after, in that moment, I had began to enter into the issue of independence in Eastern Turkistan and I understood that we were demanding once again for the autonomy of this region and it is part of China, etc., no. If we do in fact belong to China, then why are we going through this genocide today? If we are an autonomous region, then why can’t we manage our own region? No, we don’t have the right since they announced that it was “Xinjiang”. So what is “Xinjiang”? The word “Xinjiang” means a new territory for the Chinese. But it’s not their land, it’s the Uyghurs’ territory,  territory of all the people of Eastern Turkistan. So I understood everything that was happening, and that day I said, “Wait. We must save our territory”. When we can save our territory, we can recover our lands and then, uh, all Uyghurs they can free and they will immediately receive their freedom with their independence. And that’s why I gave myself a reason to carry out the elec…, when the election for the Uyghurs of France was beginning. I actually registered for that, also for the vice-president and afterwards, I was elected with all the Uyghur communities. I am glad they chose me and since that day, I really giving everything I have, for my mother, and also for the Uyghur people. And fortunately, they let my mother out of camp in April 2019, right after that election ended. And after, they actually are still kind of under surveillance and I have not had much contact with them. And in fact, I hear from different sources about their lives. But I don’t know which is true or false, still, so I know they’re alive for the moment, uh, I know that. So I haven’t stopped, I  make plans, how can we improve the situation for the Uyghurs in France? First for the refugees, because they have come out so… Actually, we know, every person, how they managed to get out of the Chinese territory to save themselves. And after, how, actually he now lives in another country, they don’t know the language, etc., and for them, too, it’s really difficult.  And so our association has started helping these people, uh, to help them find, to make life a little easier. And then, secondly, it’s really the, going into politics against the Chinese Embassy in France, and also, how to say, connect with all the associations that oppose Chinese oppression. So we hold demonstrations and organize conferences with universities and students, especially young people today who are more interested than the rest. So uh, we make connections with them, we make connections with all the associations that support the Uyghurs and the problems of Uyghurs today. And so, uh, actually, each time, uh, I start talking with them, and then we find contacts. And then, I use Twitter a lot, I give my direct opinion on Twitter, even if French not my native language. I tried to write well and so, uh, there are actually times, we write in English, sometimes, we write in French. I write, I know how to write very well in French, in Chinese and I read Chinese but I never use Chinese on my Twitter because I don’t want to. Because they are the ones who have us, in fact, they are the ones who don’t want to give us real freedom, because they… It’s not that we don’t want it. We, the Uyghurs, and even all other Turkic-speaking ethnic groups in Eastern Turkistan, who want true freedom.  But they have never give it to us, they, actually the people of Eastern Turkistan have been subjected to this genocide for a century: it’s not just since yesterday, not since the day before yesterday, it’s been for a century. So now, I have understood everything and I give everything I have in me to fight this fight. It’s not easy, but I want to, I’m not going to stop. 

And rightly so, when you talk about that moment that you understood what was happening, how did you feel? Did you feel angry? Sad? What were the feelings you had inside?
Sad. Because there are very few, very few people who, actually even today, there are so many people actually, like even in the big countries, which began to denounce. “Genocide”, this word is very serious for people, it is very serious, genocide. So, even, just using the word “genocide”, there are a lot of Uyghurs, they’re still in fear. I sad about that because when there were fears, China, the Chinese government can use that in so many ways to scare us actually. So back when I discovered the truth, the reality, I was sad because why? Why not earlier, actually?  When I arrived in France, if only I had started from the beginning, maybe today, it could have advanced further. I thought that. But as they say, there is a time for all things. So maybe also, it was maybe destiny. I believe in destiny so, uh, perhaps it was my destiny the day that I discovered this reality and then I am, until today, following a clear path: there is only independence that can save us.  Even asking for autonomy or other things, that cannot save us because we’ve already tried. The Uyghurs, they’ve already tried. And anyway, actually, everything has remained the same, in fact, even today we live, it’s more, actually it’s always worse. Never, way to, it’s always more worse, so yeah. So, I am sad, even today, I am sad that the Uyghurs who are refugees, even in Europe, even refugees in other countries, they, how to say, they cover their head, they don’t want to go out into the street because normally, we need all Uyghurs to leave their rooms, stand on the, actually in front of, how to say, ambass…, no, the National Assembly or the Senate, etc., before this kind of uh, how to say, governmental building, we have to stand before them, we have to ask for their help because we have no more power, so we need to ask them, to help to save all these people. But today there are very few and that continues to make me sad.

Okay. And when you were younger, were you involved in political activity or did it happen more so after?  Uh, no, actually. When I was in Chinese school, when I studied in China, etc., I was always the head of the class, I have a bit of a, uh…, I’m actually a bit strong-willed, I think it’s my management side. So, yeah. And, well, I never had a real political side, actually. When I studied management during an international exchange, in the course we studied international law, etc., and maybe that too, was for me, a side uh, to see in another way, uh, the Chinese laws and to compare true freedom and false freedom in China and see from the outside. So that played a role also. And finally, it was because of my mother, as that really shocked me, actually hit me with a huge force (laughter). And I began saying, “Wait, you have to wake up to this!” So, uh, before that there was no, how to say, I had no background, no involvement in political things, but now, today, I’ve really gotten into politics.

And how do you feel when you campaign, when you carry out these activities, when you protest, when you write? What’s the feeling you experience?
 In the beginning, I proud of myself (laughter), I don’t know why, but I’m proud of myself because I do it because I want to. When I do, I take one step, and I want to take second step, I want to improve more and more. Even sometimes, when we get hurt, and sometimes we can’t move forward, but I still want to move forward. And, especially when we hold demonstrations, I’m out front yelling, I shout, I reading speeches, I give all my, how to say, I put all my feelings into the speech – because I write the speeches myself – I put all my feelings into it and everyone understands and everyone agrees with me. That gives me energy, and then attracts more and more people to this cause. You have to hear, so everyone wants to help us. That gives me even more energy. And we can’t beat the Chinese with a gun today, “If I kill the Chinese, it’s going to freedom my country”, no! Actually, politics today isn’t like that. Politics today means media war, wars in other ways, with…  So yeah. So, uh, I was saying, I’m proud because I did it, at least in my heart, I said, at least I have done one little thing for my people, for my country. That’s it, first, and then the rest, it’s gonna come, uh, it’s gonna come with my experience that I’ve been building for 2-3 years. And then, all the connections that we have made contact with, all that, people who support the Uyghur cause, and also today, the major nations who have began to denounce genocides, actually. China are accused of genocide against Uyghurs. So all that actually gives me energy because I find, I’m on the right path, I’m on the right path. In fact, otherwise, if other people have another way, if I have another way, like China they said, “there is only a small minority who are demanding independence, etc.” But the reality is that 100%, all the Uyghurs, even those who work for the Chinese, even those who are in China, even those outside China, they all want their independence. But it’s just the ways of voicing that, that’s not the same. Cause those who stay, who are in China, cannot voice that opinion, under China’s surveillance. Those working for the Chinese to earn a little food, that earn a little money, they can’t say, they work with the Chinese, but in reality, all Uyghurs, whether they afraid or not, they want their independence, want their country, in fact, want their country of Eastern Turkistan.

Okay. And just to return to your journey, when you understood, when you applied for asylum here, when you applied for refugee status, uh, how did you feel about the idea that you may not be able to return to Eastern Turkistan? How did that make you feel?
Actually, uh, maybe that too, has had more of an impact, that I was coming out of, actually, uh, when I was in a college, it was quite far away from home, in Nanjing, and I was aged 14. Maybe that affected me a little bit because during the year, we could only go home once, during the summer holidays. And when we went home, well we were teenagers so we’d go out with our friends, we’d play, and we wouldn’t stay a lot with our parents. So maybe that, because of that too, also with my parents the relation too at that time wasn’t as close as with my friends, actually. They were actually always in my heart, they were always faithful, but actually as I was young, I didn’t spend much time with them, so for me, this lack, it always remains, actually, in my life, even today. And since then, I arrived in France in 2008, well it’s the same actually, I’ve only returned twice, once to get married, two and a half years after I arrived in France, and the second, five years after actually, so I first returned in 2010, and then I returned in 2015. So, uh, for me, it’s not really that… Because even my parents, when they educated me, they told me, “You first must plant your foot in France, and you’re standing. After that, you come back.” They actually told me that, “Set your life up well over there, so you don’t miss out on anything. After that, you can come back here, and go back and forth, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot.” Actually, my dad was right, so uh, me, that’s what I did. So yeah, since 2015, yes, it’s been five years, almost six years since I’ve returned, and I miss them. But when I applied for asylum, I was asked a question very, uh… actually, it affected me a lot and also, it affected them a lot, too. He said, “You know you can’t go back there.” I say, “I don’t go back, not until East Turkestan has independence, that they restore their independence. My goal is that.” Because even if one day, even if I become French, if one day I go back to China, it means I accept their colonization of my country. I will not accept that. Up until today, I have not accepted it because it’s…  Here, they have colonized since 1949 – even before – but since 1949 it’s been official. So since 1949, East Turkestan has been colonized by China. So, uh, if I have to apply for a visa at the Chinese Embassy to return to my country, that, I couldn’t stand it. No, no, I won’t go back.

Okay. And do you want to tell us about what’s going on there, in Eastern Turkistan?
The truth actually, pardon, the truth actually, uh, even for me, it’s like for everybody else, uh, either in France or the world at large, we hear only what the media tells us. That’s the reality. Because already, personally, we don’t have much contact with our families, our loved ones, our friends, actually they never give, uh, genuine information. Even if we ask, “are you okay, is there any re-education stuff happening, etc.” They say, “No, no, it’s okay”, etc. They never give truthful information and sometimes when you enter the Chinese social network, you see certain details. They say, “Yeah, I finally finished school today, thankfully, etc.” Because there are people asking, “Hey, for the last two years you haven’t been here!” “Oh yes, because I just finished school today.” But what is this school? Well, you know right away, ah yes, it was “reeducation”, but they are concentration camps. But there are a lot of friends who have disappeared. And even there are friends who lived with us in France, they completed their studies, they finished their Master’s degree. They went back to the country, and they disappeared. They disappeared.  So, uh that really, that affects me a lot because there are really good elements that went back there to develop Eastern Turkistan, “for China”, but for them it was… We have to develop there. And so, they went back, and right away they’re locked up in concentration camps. There are friends who are in prison for seven years, ten years. And it’s just because they lived in France two more years. It’s unbelievable. So, uh, there, it’s just, there’s no life. If you go out of the territory, when you return, you have to, you remain in prison for uh, how to say, to “clean your brain”. And apart from that uh, in the concentration camps, it’s horrible. Everything we hear about today is even worse. They don’t say re-educate, forced labour, etc., because forced labour, that’s found everywhere, uh, re-education, everywhere. But actually, uh, there’s a lot actually of, there are ways, but it’s not the same ways of re-education, there are countries that do that in schools, there are many ways. But in China, they are locked up in camps and they’re not allowed out, they are, how to say, re-educated. But also organ theft, they sell to countries – that are so-called “Muslim” countries, we will say “so-called” because normally there is not an Islamic policy (laughter) in the world – so Muslim countries, to Muslims who live in these countries. They sell the organs, they even put, how to say, the ‘halal’ label. They sell organs. And also sterilization of women, forced abortions, gang rape – not just towards women, but even men! Seriously, that… A human being can’t imagine! We’ve never seen this before, never seen! Even there are lots of people who compare with the 1940’s, for the Jews with the Nazis, they compare. I am sad for the Jewish people during that time.  We’ve seen lots of, how to say, movies, reports, etc. But today, we don’t see it happening, even we don’t understand, but we know very well how the Chinese capture all this information. What leaks out is just 1% of the truth so we can’t imagine what’s going on, we can’t stand, uh, our hearts can’t bear it anymore, can’t stand to hear everything we hear today. So if one day, 100% is released…  How can we compare? We can’t compare, we can’t compare with any, in the 21st century we can’t compare it with anything that is happening around the world. I, anyway,  I agree that all that, how to say, massacre of small ethnic groups, even in Burma, even in Africa, even in Europe, there are many. I know, I support those people, always. But perhaps because I’m Uyghur, there are a lot of people: “Yeah for you, you’re Uyghur, that’s why you’re doing it.” But to me, I’m a human. I’m a man, I’m a human. I want to return to their places all these people who are in concentration camps. One day, perhaps it’s uh, my daughter or my son, or I’m the one who goes into this camp. If we go through this mass, this, how to say, uh…

Genocide.
Genocide, over there! No one could stand that. And sometimes, when I imagine that, actually I, my heart, it experiences a pain I just can’t stand. So we can’t imagine what’s going on over there. All we hear, as I said earlier, it’s 1% maximum we could say 5% of the truth, 95% of it is hidden, it still remains undiscovered, covered. We can’t imagine, frankly.

Thank you, Mirqedir. Is there anything, despite all this, that brings you joy?
To begin, well, uh, my family. They are here, fortunately, in a country that respects human rights, a country of freedom. Even though at the moment, it is a bit (laughter) difficult in France too, however the people, the French men and women, they will always protect human rights. They always protect the right to life, the right for humanity. So really, in truth, I want the French people to remain beside the Uyghur people. We all agree that, today, all the business people, all the rich, they like to work alongside the Chinese because they offer cheap labor, and they make everything cheaper, etc. But everything they make cheaper, cheaper labor, comes from the Uyghur people. Thanks to this genocide. So I want to pass a message to everyone who is rich, everyone who wants to work with the Chinese: Stop! Stop being part of this genocide. No. Say stop to this genocide. Stop working with the Chinese. I know the Chinese people are not bad people, but at the moment we have no other choice. To save this ethnic group, we have to make a stand, we need to act. And when they stop everything that is forced labor, all these genocides, we can of course work with them because they too are human. I don’t treat an ethnic group like something because they too are human, they also have the right to live, and with the Chinese government they, too, can’t live like humans. So today, China, which in fact, with the world’s current economic balance, it’s China that does everything. And China is destroying that balance. To have a true economic balance throughout the entire world, it is necessary to say “China, stop. Stop.” That’s it, thank you.

Okay. Thank you, Mirqedir. Just one last question that will be about dreams. Before you understood, when you were a student here and before you understood that your mother was in a camp and before you understood the situation there, what was your dream?  And could you say it as a quote saying: “Before I realized that I couldn’t go back to my country, my dream was…”
Well, actually, when I arrived in France, I came full of dreams because I was young, I was 19 years old. At that age, in our home, very few people succeed actually, the chance to get out of the territory. Back then, for me, it was well yeah in Europe. I’m in France, it’s so romantic. And the city, uh, Paris too, it’s the romantic city of the world. I said, “Wait, if I see, I’m going to France” (even though I was in Clermont-Ferrand), I said “yeah, I can visit Paris”. It was a dream to see everything we hear about when we’re young. And then I said, “Wait, if I find a girl and I’m in front of the Eiffel Tower, I can say, “So, do you want to marry me, etc.” (Laughter) Well, it’s a childhood dream, of course. And so I came to France, I started to study and even, just after six months, as we needed the money too, during the summer holidays, I went to work on a farm with apples, raspberries, etc. And when I arrived there, I met a French family who actually taught me French with them for three months during which I started to really speak French. From zero, maybe we can’t say up to Z but (laughter), from nothing until at least the letter K or M, in fact I began to get a really good level. Even when I went back to school, my teachers told me “Yes, you’ve really advanced.” So there, that French family gave me a taste of the real life in France because with them, I learned so many things: the real, how to say, the French “mentality”, how they see things, how they think. And I really grew up. So at that point I thought, “Wait. I have to make money.” I said, “Wait, I need to become a businessman. I have to earn a lot of money to develop myself and also to send for my parents.” In fact today, it’s money that matters most. And so I tried. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy. I tried and I did a lot of things. Fortunately, today I have a separate company in the name of my wife. So I did it, I did it, but I can no longer send anything I’ve earned to my parents because they forbade it. And just before, actually, even my father, he says, “Yeah, you have to get rich.” Yes, for me, it was a business mentality: I have to become rich. Hamdoullah, today it’s okay. It’s not, I’m gonna become a wealthy millionaire, but for life, I feed myself, I can feed others, it’s okay with my family.  But after everything that has happened, all that is reality is that it’s not just money that counts. It’s not just money that matters. For me today, there is only one dream, either its independence or it’s death. There are no others.

Okay. Thank you very much, Mirqedir.
You’re welcome.

So, I’m gonna stop there, I think it’s okay, thank you. Mirqedir, if you can just tell me again, what was your dream when you arrived in France?
When I arrived in France, my dream was to become a businessman to earn more money, to send it to my parents, to have a quiet life, a good life. So, uh, that was my dream, to become a businessman.

Okay, perfect, thank you.
You’re welcome.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in english. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.