IU sophomore Dilyar Muradil was born, further than many fellow students, in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in northwestern China.
That province is the ancestral home of 11 million Uyghur people, a Muslim Turkic minority group facing oppression under Chinese rule. Muradil was born in Kashgar, a city in Xinjiang.
The Uyghur culture has been systematically dismantled by the Chinese government because of a fear of separatists. At least a million Uyghur people have been incarcerated in camps by the Chinese government that were kept secret until satellite images revealed them. Laws are passed to restrict religious freedoms, surveil Uyghurs and more.
Victims of a crisis happening millions of miles away in China can be found studying in the stacks of Herman B Wells Library.
Muradil, 19, said he is one of three Uyghur students he knows that are currently studying at IU.
Just like any other IU student, Muradil studies for class and hangs out with his friends. But he said in the back of his mind he’s always thinking about his relatives and the Uyghur people going through such difficult things .
Muradil lived in Kashgar with all his relatives until he was about 5 years old. Then, his family moved to Japan for seven or eight years. Muradil’s family would always take a trip back to Kashgar at least once a year.
They went back and forth until around 2014, when Muradil said the situation between the Uyghur people and the Chinese government worsened.
“We had to make a choice between staying in a different country or going back to our homeland," Muradil said.
His family made the difficult decision to immigrate to the U.S. because they couldn’t return to Kashgar and found it’s difficult to live as foreigners in Japan over the long-term.
Muradil came to IU after graduating from high school in Indiana.
“My dad thought it would be better if we go to a place where we can be, part of a community and actually have all kinds of freedom and not face any kind of religious difficulty,” Muradil said.
Muradil joined the Japanese Student Association at IU and found a passion for computer science . He often reads Japanese and English novels in his free time. Yet, the reality of the situation in Xinjiang continues to affect him.
Muradil said he was never directly persecuted or discriminated against, but his life would have been completely different had he stayed in Xinjiang .
“About the whole situation, it’s really hard because part of me is just really upset that I had to go through things like this and it’s really depressing,” Dilyar said. “I’m just sad, simply.”
His family hasn’t been able to contact their relatives for about two years, and those relatives try to avoid contacting them out of fear of getting in trouble with the Chinese government.
Muradil’s family received shocking news last year after a long period of no communication, which was delivered to them by a friend of his mother who got a message out from Beijing, where communications are less strictly controlled.
“About a year ago, my mom’s older sister was actually in a camp as far as we understand,” Muradil said. “That time she was so depressed she couldn’t even go to work, and she also lost her parents.”
Muradil’s family learned his grandparents died and his aunt was in one of China’s re-education camps where Uyghurs are forced to learn how to be ideal Chinese citizens with no regard for their traditional culture. There are many reports that indicate these are also centers of forced labor, but the Chinese government continues to defend them in the face of global outrage.
“It was just a really hard time for our family,” Muradil said, close to tears.
The plight of his people back home haunts Muradil. But there are a lot of good things about growing up with Uyghur culture.
Muradil’s parents encouraged the use of the Uyghur language at home. Now, Muradil can speak Uyghur, Japanese and English, and he hopes to learn how to read and write in the Uyghur language in the future.
His family often listens to Uyghur songs and enjoys a traditional style of Uyghur comedy. They make sure to celebrate their culture’s holidays as well.
“One thing I really like about Uyghur culture is how close we are to our relatives and how we always try to connect to our people in general,” Muradil said.
That hospitality extends beyond the Uyghur community, which his friends can attest to.
“I met his family and they were so welcoming,” Alghafri said. “They didn’t make me feel like a stranger.”
Muradil said he is grateful people are giving more attention to Uyghur issues. He said he is pleasantly surprised to not have to explain who the Uyghur people are when he says he is oneof them.
“We can all work together to hopefully one day solve this problem,” Muradil said.