The People’s Republic of Belgium


The People's Republic of Belgium

In a show of sportsmanship, the Belgian Embassy in Beijing called the Chinese police to report an Uighur family that was filing for asylum in Belgium. 


The Uighurs, a small Muslim minority in China, in recent years have been persecuted, isolated and 1.5 million of them sent to prison camps to be ‘re-educated’. Which means that the likely outcome of this tattling is that this family won’t be visiting Belgium any time soon.

The story goes that Ablimit Tursun, a Chinese Uighur, was on a business trip in Turkey and told by his family not to return as his brother was being detained. To avoid the same fate, Ablimit thought it be best to leave Turkey for a more liberal and hospitable country, but instead, he ended up in Belgium. As soon as he arrived, he sought asylum and requested to be reunified with his family as per Belgian law.  


Once his wife and 4 children were introduced to some Belgian bureaucracy, forcing the oppressed group to travel to Beijing twice, they went to the capital.


When they arrived at a hotel, the police knocked down the door, interrogated the family and kindly asked them to return to their place of origin. Thinking they’d be better off on Belgian soil, they fled to the embassy where they were hoping to stay until the application process was completed. But, the Belgians wanted none of this loitering and called the Chinese police in the middle of the night to remove the family from the embassy (i.e. Belgium… ). Anything to avoid a bit of paperwork. 


The application process was apparently completed two days later, but given that the family is now unreachable and probably in the same place the other 1.5 million Uighurs, they probably won’t be picking them up anytime soon. Hope the father doesn’t get in trouble with the Belgian authorities for that. In case they do resurface, they best prepare to fill in several documents in one of Belgium’s three languages and wait another 12 months for an appointment. 


But, did the embassy have any choice in the matter? The purpose of an embassy is to maintain diplomatic ties with the hosting country and to help foreign citizens when they are abroad. In return for a bit of curtesy and not too much spying, you get to have a small slab of Belgium in a foreign country, ready to help whenever a bachelor party goes wrong. 


Belgian officials have since defended their ‘collaboration’, saying a “small country can’t risk offending China”. Which, seems to imply that any Belgian foreign post is more than willing to help regimes with ethnic cleansing and persecutions all around the globe. Tax well spent, rarely do foreign services go above and beyond when it counts! 


What’s more, given that the Chinese are far too busy finding new ways to get their new extradition law through in Hong Kong to worry about the Uighur, Belgium’s helping hand will likely be appreciated.


So, if up until now you’ve been relying on Belgian foreign policy to calibrate your moral compass, this is probably quite a disappointment. Of course, this could all be a misunderstanding. Maybe the local staff had no idea China felt this extreme way about the Uighur. After all, it’s not like anything of the sort ever happened in Europe. Oh, wait. 

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