By the time they were able to return home to Turkey in December 2019, they had become malnourished and traumatized. They had also forgotten how to speak their mother tongues, Uyghur and Turkish. (The children were being raised in Turkey but got forcibly sent to boarding school during a family visit to China.)
"That was the heaviest moment in my life. Standing in front of my two Chinese-speaking children, I felt as if they had killed me," says Abdüllatif Kuçar, their father.
Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have rounded up hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, and sent them to detention centers where they are taught Mandarin Chinese and Chinese political ideology. Camp detainees have reported being forced to work in factories during their detention or after they are released. The children of those detained or arrested are often sent to state boarding schools, even when relatives are willing to take them in.