Kaster Musakhan and Murager Alimuly will be protected until October 2022. China answers with commercial retaliations.
by Laila Adilzhan
Readers of Bitter Winter knows the tribulations of Kaster Musakhan and Murager Alimuly, two of the ethnic Kazakhs persecuted in Xinjiang who managed to escape to Kazakhstan. We are now happy to report that the leader of the independent Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights organization, Serikzhan Bilash, who is currently in New York, USA, has confirmed that the refugee certificates of Kaster and Murager have been extended for another year, until October 14, 2022.
Readers may remember that Kaster and Murager, who fled to Kazakhstan in October 2019, were sentenced to one year in prison for “deliberately violating the Sino-Kazakh border,” before being granted refugee status. They were released eight months later, and were given a refugee certificate. At present, it is unknown whether the refugee certificates of Kaisha Akan and Bagashar Malik will also be extended.
Tlek Tabarik, who lives in the village of Panfilov, Almaty region, has not been granted refugee status. Another Xinjiang Kazakh, Sayragul Sauytbay, moved to Sweden with her family in June 2019 after Kazakhstan refused to grant her refugee status.
Kazakhstan pays a price every time it grants refugees status to ethnic Kazakhs who escape from Xinjiang. China retaliates in the trade sphere Kazakh entrepreneurs are losing money because China does not accept Kazakhstan’s freight cars. Since last November, China has refused to accept thousands of covered freight cars loaded with grain, non-ferrous metals, fertilizers, construction materials, and other goods from Kazakhstan. Exporters who could not sell their goods lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and some of them went out of business. The official reason for China’s refusal of these goods is the tightening of quarantine rules at the border.
Exporters, however, are skeptical of China’s claim that the shipment from Kazakhstan may spread the virus. The head of the executive committee of the Grain Union of Kazakhstan, Shokan Badykhan, believes that China deliberately invented this reason to prevent the import of Kazakh goods. It is true, he said, that the virus left on the surface of a linen bag can live for several days, but it is clear that it does not last for half a year, which is the time it should have survived in the exported Kazakh goods in order to affect China. More probably, China wanted to teach Kazakhstan a political lesson, said Shokan Badykhan.
China’s suspension of Kazakhstan’s closed freight cars coincided with the granting of refugee status to Kaisha Akan and Bagashar Malik, followed by Kaster Musakhan and Murager Alimuly. Nicola Contessi, a researcher at the York Center for Asian Studies in Canada, told the Kazakh services of RFE/RL that it is indeed probable that China’s move is connected with the refugees cases. Since the beginning of the pandemic, freight traffic on the Eurasian railway corridor has sharply increased, but from the fourth quarter of 2020 there have been traffic jams and disruptions on the border between Kazakhstan and China.
According to exporters, China had not warned Kazakhstan in advance that it will not accept cargo. Kazakhstan Railways (KTZ) reported in February that talks on the work of checkpoints at the Kazakh-Chinese border were held with the participation of representatives of government agencies of the two countries. KTZ said that as a result of these talks, China took urgent measures and agreed to accept 2,200 cars located in the territory of Kazakhstan.
But it was unclear what concessions China demanded and obtained. Six days after the talks, people began picketing in front of the Chinese consulate in Almaty, demanding the release of relatives imprisoned in the so-called transformation through education camps in Xinjiang on trumped-up charges. These pickets are still going on after 250 days, despite the fact that police intervened and arrested picketers nine times.