Uyghur Neighborhood Targeted For Evictions is Destroyed by Fire

Around 55 homes in a Uyghur neighborhood marked for construction of a housing project were destroyed by fire on Wednesday, leaving seven dead and eight in hospital with severe burns, sources said.

The fire, helped by gale-force winds, spread quickly on March 25 through the Kassaphana section of Karamay city in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and burned only the houses of Uyghur families who had been ordered evicted, one source told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“It is strange that only those houses marked for eviction were burned,” the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It must be God’s will,” he added.

Even though he and others in the neighborhood had been told to leave their homes to make way for development in the area, “no compensation was offered for the loss of our property,” he said.

“We were also never told where we might go to live,” he said. “Right now, we do not know what is awaiting us.”

“We cannot go back to our houses, because the neighborhood has been blocked off by police,” he said.

Power cut off

Power to the neighborhood had been cut off shortly after the wind gained strength, RFA’s source said, adding that this made it unlikely that an electric short or spark had started the blaze.

“We don’t know how the fire was started,” he said.

Six of the seven who were killed—a mother and five children—had come from one family, with the family’s father now burned over 97 percent of his body, he said.

Eight altogether had been taken to hospital following the fire, another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Some there were heavily burned,” she said. “Several Uyghurs here in Karamay city (Kelamayi, in Chinese) have donated food and money to them.”

Reached for comment, an official at the Karamay Central Hospital denied any knowledge of the fire.

“There are no injured people here,” he said.

Donations banned

Another Uyghur source said that he and others had also tried to collect donations, but that authorities had told them to stop.

“We have been told they are not allowing the distribution of any private donations to the victims,” he said.

The neighborhood that burned had been settled “mainly by Uyghurs coming from other parts of the region,” a Uyghur woman living in Karamay said, adding that those who lost their homes were being sheltered in Karamay’s Number 11 Elementary School.

“I am with them here right now,” she said.

Land-grabs by Chinese firms in Xinjiang have heightened ethnic tensions in the region, where the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs accuse Han Chinese of displacing them from their traditional homeland and depriving them of economic opportunities under strict rule by Beijing.

Reported by Gulchehre Abdukeyum and Ehsan for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.