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Ethnic Kazakhs in China are the largest Kazakh diaspora in the world. Currently, there are around 1.46 million Kazakhs living in China. The Kazakhs in China are the descendants of those who migrated from the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940 during a process known as collectivisation and those who lived on lands cut off from Kazakhstan and given to China.

Ethnic Kazakhs are part of a minority muslim group in China and are currently viewed by Chinese authorities as a threat.

In October last year, two ethnic Kazakhs from China, Kaster Musakhanuly and Murager Alimuly, crossed the Kazakh-Chinese border. According to them, they were fleeing the persecution that is taking place in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region against minority muslim groups, such as the Uighurs and Kazakhs. Musakhanuly said that he was held in the camp for about four years and eight months.

The passports of Musakhanuly and Alimuly remained with the Chinese authorities, so they did not have a legal way to leave China. Due to their illegal border crossing, they were detained and placed in custody. In January 2020, the Zaysan District Court sentenced the men to a year of imprisonment and in June 2020, they were released.

This month, the two ethnic Kazakh men received refugee status in Kazakhstan for one year. According to Serikzhan Bilash, an activist of the Nagyz Atazhurt Eriktileri organization, which helps Kazakhs in Xinjiang, this is the first case of ethnic Kazakhs receiving refugee status in Kazakhstan:

“I believe that the fact that the Kazakh authorities granted refugee status to these people is an admission that there is a camp in Xinjiang where the situation of the Kazakhs is difficult and the Kazakhs are forced to flee abroad. That is, the Kazakh authorities officially recognized the existence of a concentration camp in China for the first time.” Bilash emphasized.

Key terms:

  1. Ethnic Kazakhs

  2. Authorities

  3. Border crossing

  4. Detained

  5. Concentration camp

  6. Refugee status

Key questions:

  1. Why Chinese authorities view ethnic Kazakhs as a threat?

  2. Do you think Kazakhstan, or any other countries, have a legal right to protect minority groups at threat of being sent to camps?

  3. What will be the relationship between Kazakhstan and China after giving refugee status to Kaster Musakhanuly and Murager Alimuly?

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