Nazatet Mahmutuowa and her husband Dilmurat Barat hold up a photo of their children Mershat Dilmurat, 23, and Naziyre Dilmurat, 19, who are missing in Urumchi, China.

Dilmurat Barat and his wife, Nazatet, keep their children’s bedrooms in their tidy home in north Toronto just as they left them. Their daughter Naziyre’s bed is neatly made, with a worn stuffed horse placed just so on the pillow and bottles of nail polish carefully lined up on a dresser.

The 20-year-old university student and her 23-year-old brother, Mershat, left home on July 2 to spend the summer reconnecting with their grandparents in their mother’s native city, Urumqi. But deadly riots broke out just days after their arrival, and their parents haven’t heard a word from their children since.

Their father says he has made dozens of calls to relatives and friends in the region, but hasn’t been able to get through to anyone. Shortly after the riots began on July 5, international calls to the region were blocked and Internet service cut off.

“I want them to come home soon,” said Mr. Barat, an engineer. “I just want them to come home.”

Mehmet Tohti of the Uyghur-Canadian Association says his group believes there are at least 28 Canadian citizens of Uyghur origin who are currently in Xinjiang province, including the Barats’ children. Mr. Tohti says because the communication lines are down, their families don’t know if they’re in danger or not.

“It’s impossible for those Uyghurs to contact the outside world,” Mr. Tohti said.

Mr. Tohti said he has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs for help to make sure the Uyghur-Canadians in the region are all right. He is calling on the Canadian embassy in Beijing to dispatch a team to Xinjiang to help evacuate Uyghur-Canadians.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore says there are no Canadian embassy staff in Xinjiang, but staff in Beijing will respond to requests from Canadians in the country for assistance. He said those in Canada worried about family members in Xinjiang can also contact the department’s emergency operations centre in Ottawa.

Mr. Barat says he called Foreign Affairs last Tuesday to ask for help contacting his children and gave them his children’s names, passport numbers and the phone number of the home where they were staying in Urumqi. He said he was told Foreign Affairs would contact him once they had been able to reach his son and daughter, but he has not heard back.

Mr. Moore said Chinese authorities have been asked to inform the Canadian embassy if any Canadian citizens have been affected by the unrest in Urumqi, but Mr. Tohti, a long-time human rights activist, says he is skeptical about China’s co-operation.

Ottawa has lobbied the Chinese government for years over the imprisonment in Urumqi of Huseyin Celil, an Uyghur-Canadian whose wife and children live in Burlington, Ont.

China has accused Mr. Celil of terrorism, but senior Canadian government officials say they’ve never seen evidence of his guilt. China does not recognize Mr. Celil’s Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Celil is one of many Uyghurs – a Turkic Muslim ethnic group based in northwest China – that Beijing has convicted of terrorism offences.

Written by: Jennifer Macmillan
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