Redio free asia : Escape from Death: China's Muslims' "Walk the Line" Redio free asia : Escape from Death: China's Muslims' "Walk the Line"

Redio free asia : Escape from Death: China's Muslims' "Walk the Line"

Redio free asia : Escape from Death: China's Muslims' "Walk the Line"

New York. Li Kai recalled that in the summer of 2023 , his family of four was traveling across the Caribbean in a small boat. Huge waves hit them, and they felt like the end of the world was coming. At that time, there were dozens of other Chinese stowaways on the boat that could capsize at any time. They are on a dangerous journey: "walking the line" from South America into the United States.

In the past year, the number of Chinese people entering the United States through "route routes" has surged. According to the New York Times, in fiscal year 2023 , 24,000 Chinese people came to the United States via wireline. In the previous 10 years, fewer than 15,000 Chinese immigrants were caught illegally crossing the southern border. Li Kai, his wife and two sons are part of this army of wire walkers. Unlike many stowaways who took the route for economic reasons, Li Kai's family fled China for religious reasons. Observers say there has also been a significant increase in the number of Chinese Muslims traveling to the United States for religious reasons.

Muslim self-reports: Worried about retaliation when participating in protests, they chose to go to the United States

Li Kai is a Hui Muslim living in Tangshan, Hebei. The appearance and language of the Hui people are similar to those of the Han people. Compared with Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the Hui people are relatively more trusted by Chinese society. But Li Kai said he still feels troubled by his Muslim identity.

Li Kai , 44 , lives in a village in eastern Tangshan and was a truck driver. He said that there was originally a mosque in the village, but the government planned to demolish it and merge it with the mosque in the neighboring village, which triggered a protest by local Muslims on April 24 , 2023 .

Li Kai: The government was about to demolish the mosque. On that Monday, many people went to the mosque to find the imam. At that time, we sent out all the preparations to have some physical contact. Anyway, it was quite lively. They were dispersed within an hour. Then he went home in a hurry.

Reporter: What happened in this process that led to the conflict between the police and Muslims?

Li Kai: The police said that we were gathering to make trouble. This matter was discussed between the government and the imam. After demolishing the mosque, we would go to Xiazhuang in the future. Originally (the mosque) did not allow young children to go, and everyone was dissatisfied, but there was no outbreak. This time, it was because of this. Then there was a leading Muslim who led us there, and there were pushing and shoving with the people at the police station.

Reporter: Was anyone injured at the scene?

Li Kai: I don’t know either.

Li Kai said that he decided to run away overnight because he was worried about being retaliated against.

Li Kai: They will deal with me because of this matter. Similar incidents have occurred in previous years. It will also affect my children. Previously, children were not allowed to enter the mosque. Only 18 years and older are allowed in. My child is so old that he is not allowed to enter the mosque. He just took the kids and his wife and ran away. Let a friend drive to Shenzhen.

Reporter: You decided to run away temporarily. Did you have a goal at the time?

Li Kai: There is no goal. I just thought they would deal with me. When my children were in elementary school, they registered their Muslim faith. I had a sense of crisis. This time it was because of the mosque. It was a Monday when I first came out. A friend sent me away overnight. The police station went to my mother's house to look for me. I was lucky that I ran fast.

Reporter: Why does the government have to demolish the Kaiping Mosque and merge it with the Xiazhuang Mosque? What's the motivation?

Li Kai: I heard from an old man that in 2018 or 19 , temple merging was going on all over the country. For this reason.

Reporters were unable to independently verify Li's claims. The reporter sent e-mails to the local government and public security bureau of the district where Li Kai’s residence is registered, as well as the Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau for verification, but received no response.

JOE , a Muslim rights activist living in New York , told reporters that Li Kai’s experience involves the “merging of temples” in China in recent years: reducing the number of mosques and merging mosques in different areas into one.

Joe: Because in China, for example, there may be two mosques in a village, but now a village is only allowed to have one mosque, but a village generally has a larger population. If you worship like this, many people will not have the opportunity to learn. . A mosque now does not allow students, only one imam is allowed, so that he alone can teach limited religious knowledge. This is its purpose, which is to dilute all believers.

On November 22 , 2023 , Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United States, released a report stating that the Chinese government implemented the "monastery merger" policy in Ningxia and Gansu, where Muslims gather, to restrict Islamic religious activities, promote the sinicization of religion, and infringe religious freedom.

Quito begins to move the line, most of the people on board are Chinese

Li Kai said that after he and his wife ran to Shenzhen with their two sons, they learned that they could enter the United States by "traveling the line", so they decided to do the same. They bought tickets from Hong Kong to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Ecuador is visa-free for Chinese passports. Unfortunately, my child got sick, and my first experience of seeing a doctor abroad happened in Ecuador.

Li Kai: The doctor didn’t even ask me about my identity, and he treated me seriously. I was a little tearful at that time. I don’t have a formal job in China, and I don’t have medical insurance. It costs money to see a doctor for me and my children. In such a poor country, I am particularly touched that it can provide free medical care to us foreigners. It is very different from China.

After the child recovered from his illness, Li Kai's family of four took a bus from Quito to Colombia. At around 11 o'clock in the evening , a "black policeman" came into the car and extorted some money from him. The bus stopped at "Corrie" in Colombia. Here, together with some other Chinese people they met, they prepared to hike through the rainforest and start walking.

Li Kai: "Our route must go through the rainforest. The famous tropical rainforest in South America requires a boat ride. We waited for the boat for two days in Corrie, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Someone from the local smuggler came to our B&B to negotiate. , how to plan, someone will contact us. We paid the money and prepared to take the boat.

Reporter: How much?

Li Kai: The boat ride and walking out of the rainforest cost US$ 1,100 for adults, US $600 for the firstborn and US $500 for the second child . Total $ 3,300 .

The experience of sailing across the Caribbean was an unforgettable experience for him.

Li Kai: I will never forget it in my life. Small boats are very dangerous. The boat is extremely small, with a fiberglass structure, and the waves and weather in the Caribbean are changeable. And when it is turned on at night, there are no lights. Because I had a child and caused trouble in China, I felt particularly guilty. Because I feel like I’m risking my life with my children. I've heard of stories of people drowning after a boat capsized. It was bouncing up and down while riding, and I felt water splashing on my body. The children were young and did not understand, and perhaps ignorant people are fearless. They fell asleep on the boat. I hugged the second oldest child on my left side and the eldest child on my right side. They fell asleep. Sit for two hours. Arrive at a landing point into the rainforest.

Reporter: Apart from your Chinese family, are there any other Chinese on board?

Li Kai: 90% of the people on that ship were Chinese. There are also some South Americans. This boat can accommodate fifty or sixty people, 90% of whom are Chinese.

After landing, we rested overnight, and at 6 a.m. the next morning, we started walking the mountain road in the rainforest.

Li Kai: The road is too difficult to walk on. There are cliffs and steep slopes, and it is easy to fall. I took my children with me and they were fine. Follow along , with breaks in between, about 15 minutes. It took about 10 hours of walking . There was nothing to eat.

Reporter: No food prepared?

Li Kai: I was not prepared. I was worried that it would be inconvenient to carry food on a mountainous road, so I only brought water. The water belt was short, and the water was finished before the first half of the journey. The children were also thirsty, and we were all thirsty.

The first half of the rainforest is in Colombia, and the second half enters Panama. After trekking for 10 hours, the guide took everyone to an official Panamanian refugee camp.

Reporter: The wiring was done secretly. Why was it sent to the official agency?

Li Kai: Because there are too many connections to the United States, it may be humanitarian considerations that give these people a place to stay.

A night of silence. The next day, Li Kai's family left Panama by car and went to Guatemala via Costa Rica.

Chinese smuggler caught in Mexico 

After entering Guatemala, the smuggler I contacted earlier came to pick me up. Prepare to ship them to Mexico. An 8 -seater Honda car squeezed 17 stowaways into it. On the way, Li Kai and others were transferred to a vehicle transporting livestock.

Li Kai: Standing and squatting inside, there are Chinese, blacks, South Americans, everyone. Cross the river by car and enter Mexico.

They settled in Tapachula, Mexico. Then I bought a ticket to go to Mexico City, but less than two hours after the bus left, it was discovered and intercepted by the Mexican immigration department.

Li Kai: There were four of us in the car, as well as several Chinese and South Americans. Our passports were checked and we found that we were going to the United States and were not allowed to leave. The person with the child went back and arrived at a place where the Immigration Bureau stayed. The single person didn’t know where he went. He stayed there for a day until the afternoon of the next day. He made a registration, wrote a guarantee or agreement, and was released. Our family of four.

Reporter: You didn’t know where you were at that time. What was your next step?

Li Kai: I had no choice but to go back to Tapachula. I found a snakehead, a Cantonese. Later I learned that the Chinese smuggler might be a middleman, only responsible for Chinese people. There was a restaurant in Tapachuca, and the female owner was the smuggler. At that time, the cost was 3,300 yuan for adults and 3,000 yuan for children, for a total of 12,600 US dollars for four people .

Reporter: What kind of money is this?

Li Kai: This is the price from Tapachula to Mexico City.

Li Kai's family of four plus several Fujian and Northeasterners, a total of nine stowaways, traveled to Mexico City with the help of Guangdong Snakeheads. After resting for one night, we went to Monterey again, preparing to enter Texas from there.

Li Kai: The smuggler responsible for delivering the goods to the border wall is also Chinese. This person charges $ 700 per person , regardless of adults or children. The next morning, someone picked us up in two cars and took us to the next city, Reynosa, which was very close to the border. At a stronghold, I entered and saw that the room was full of Chinese people who had arrived before us. After waiting for a few hours, the car came. Everyone got on the car and drove to the Rio Grande. It took 4 hours. There were armed forces on the river, and local gangs were guarding the river with guns. It was midnight when we arrived at the river. We started crossing the river in the middle of the night. After crossing the river, we took the overland route. It was said to be grass, but it was also like a small forest. The grass was as tall as one person. The guide took us adult men for an hour.

Reporter: Where is your child?

Li Kai: They were separated, and my mother took them with me. Because women and children don’t walk in the grass, which is more dangerous because there are snakes and poisonous spiders, so they took another route.

There is a river after going out, which leads to a relatively flat place. The guide told us that you are now in the United States, and they left.

Arriving at Thanksgiving Asylum in New York, USA   

After landing, everyone followed the three Mexicans and walked out with maps on their mobile phones. After walking for nearly two hours, they encountered a U.S. Border Immigration Service vehicle. Li Kai remembers that this day is June 1 , 2023 .

Li Kai: Single men stand in one line, and families stand in another line. Check their belongings, bags, clothes, everything they carry, except mobile phone chargers, throw them away and collect them. Singles took a bus and those with children took a bus and were taken to a temporary immigration detention place, where men and women were separated. The mother was with the child and the man was in another room for two days . Food is also provided. Two days later, it was released.

At this point, Li Kai's family's journey, which took more than a month, came to an end with their entry into the United States. But the journey is not over.

Free bus to New York

Li Kai: Send it to a church reception place. I wanted to come to New York, but I didn’t know that there was a free bus from Texas to New York. Many people from the church, from various countries, were waiting to take the bus. I didn’t know until I got there that there was a free bus. Later I learned that Texas is against illegal immigration, so when I arrived, everyone was sent to New York by bus. .

They took another 30 hours of bus ride to New York.

Li Kai: Send to Roosevelt Hotel in the early morning. Very touched. Because at home, we know that China and the United States are antagonistic, and the United States introduced in China is evil, chaotic, and full of racial discrimination. Quite the opposite. Thank you so much. This journey has been very hard and painful. It is unimaginable to treat us like this here.

More and more Chinese Muslims are walking online

Ma Ju, a Muslim rights activist living in New York, has noticed that more and more Chinese Muslims like Li Kai are joining the line walkers.

Ma Ju: In the past, it was rare to see Muslims crossing the border or smuggling into the United States. I have never seen this before. It is very rare. Well, in recent years, the number of Muslims traveling abroad has expanded rapidly. So far, as far as I know, the number of Chinese Muslims who have arrived in the United States will probably exceed 500 in 2023 . This is a huge number.

He said that the provinces where more Muslims come to the United States are Hebei and Henan.

Ma Ju: Because it’s easy to get a passport. For example, getting a passport in Xinjiang is more difficult than reaching the sky. In provinces with large Muslim populations such as Ningxia, Qinghai, and Gansu, it is difficult to obtain passports. So many people can't come because they don't have travel documents. Places like Henan and Hebei have less passport restrictions, so it is easier for them to get a passport.

Reporter: Why did the number of Muslim travelers increase rapidly last year?

Ma Ju: It has something to do with the epidemic. What's more important is that they have seen the essence clearly through the epidemic. Lost confidence in China. They have lost confidence not only in China's economy, but also in China's politics. This is the core reason for the sudden surge in the number of routing troops.

Building a new Chinese Muslim community in a foreign country

Ma Ju is a Muslim born in China. He started working in business in his early years and later became an active Muslim rights activist.

Reporter: Can you give us your overall impression of these Muslim line walkers?

Ma Ju: Many of these people are raising their families. When they left China, they took the elderly and children with them, and left that land completely without hesitation. They are more decisive. It is rare to meet people who come to the United States for economic reasons. The journey was extremely difficult and difficult, and the experiences on the road were nothing compared to what we encountered at home. This is shocking.

Reporter: Are there any stories you learned that left a deep impression on you?

Ma Ju: The most difficult thing is for a person to come to the United States from a third country. I fled China around 2017 , from Xinjiang to Central Asia. After the epidemic, I fled from Central Asia to Africa, and then from Africa to Turkey, and finally to Quito. Their escape, which began seven years ago, was very impressive. I was exhausted when I arrived in the United States.

Reporter: How much does the current wiring cost? Where is the money spent?

Ma Ju: The most expensive thing is air tickets, which cost about 20,000 yuan per person . It costs about one-third or one-quarter of the cost. The second cost is the police or robbers encountered along the way, which has a serious economic impact on them.

In order to help the newly arrived Muslim compatriots, Ma Ju and Joe , who is also a Muslim , decided to provide a place for the compatriots to live. Joe was born in Ningxia, came to the United States in 2007 , and now runs a nail salon.

Joe: We started setting up a place to hold gatherings with Ma Juben, and that started like this. Finally, we found that many Muslims who were living in the area had no place to live, and it was difficult to rent a house. So we made a temporary change to allow people living in the area to live in the area.

The independent house they provide has three floors, plus a basement, and can accommodate 16 people at the same time. They stipulate that once you get a job, you have to move out and leave the room for someone who comes after you. Li Kai's family lived in a free hotel for three months. Later, they rented a house with Joe 's guarantee and started a new life in a foreign country.

Reporter: When did it start? How many line walkers and Muslims have come so far?

Joe : Since April last year , we have now accepted nearly 40 routers. There are non-Muslims too.

Reporter: Which of the Muslims you have come into contact with have left a deep impression on you?

Joe : There are several wiring processes that are quite dangerous. They make me feel so dangerous. Why do they still come here? What is the reason? They really have no way to survive in China. The persecution of religion has made it impossible for them to survive. Moreover, one of them is from Xinjiang. He is not even allowed to grow his own beard. He has no freedom at all and cannot worship in public places. , there is no way to go out without documents.

Reporter: You are also a Muslim. Have you encountered similar situations in China? What problems will you encounter as a Muslim in China?

Joe : When I was in China, there were training classes for imams. Imams are called imams. They lead people in prayers and teach people religious knowledge in every mosque. Now the Chinese government wants to train people who don’t have imam certificates. Now Schools are not allowed to open. Most people who have this certificate have been brainwashed. In the past few years, all the roofs of mosques and temples have been demolished. All such iconic things of Islam have been demolished and are not allowed. This is what I have experienced and seen.

Reporter: Speaking of Muslims, what kind of religious pressure do they face in China?

Joe : Chinese religion faces the problem of Sinicization, which many people cannot accept because religion cannot have political overtones. If a religion has political overtones, it is no longer a religion. Moreover, for Muslims in China, minors are not allowed to enter mosques, they are not allowed to learn anything about Islam before they are minors, and they are not allowed to have religious activities. This is the case for minors. Moreover, China does not allow Muslims who have worked or currently work in government agencies to enter religious venues. Entry into the mosque is not allowed.

Reporter: You mean that in China, there are many restrictions on religion due to political factors, right?

Joe : Yes.

Reporter: In the United States, are there any restrictions or regulations on Muslim children entering religious places?

Joe : No. In the United States, there are no restrictions on any religion or person.

Reporter: What is your personal view on minors entering religious places?

Joe : If you want, you should be open. Religion should be inclusive. Whether he learns or not is his problem, but you should at least be open-minded.

Reporter: You still mean to advocate freedom of religious belief, right?

JOE : Yes, religious belief itself is free. If it is not open, it will be restricted. If it is open, whether anyone will learn it is another matter.

new life in new york

When the reporter contacted Li Kai, his family had been living in New York for more than five months.

Reporter: What is your family situation, your children, your wife, and your own living situation from October to now ?

Li Kai: When the children go to school, their identity will not be concerned. The eldest is in 4th grade and the second eldest is in 2nd grade. After my daughter-in-law came here, she learned massage and took massage classes at a shop in Manhattan. I was at home all the time and the kids needed to be picked up and dropped off. Cooking, going to and from school.

Reporter: Are you planning to live in the United States for a long time or do you have other plans?

Li Kai: Now I am determined to stay and not going back. Because here I can take my children to the mosque and pray wherever I want, which is not possible in our place in China. Even studying the Quran is no problem.

Reporter: After coming to the United States, as a Muslim, what different feelings do you have about your Muslim identity?

Li Kai: It seems to me that on the street in Flushing, many young people say hello and go to church? I would be happy to say that I am a Muslim. But in China, if the other party knows that you are Hui, there is an invisible barrier between people. Compared with China, this place is very tolerant. Accept everyone.

In addition to helping find a place to stay, Maju also helps fellow Muslims integrate into the new environment as quickly as possible.

Ma Ju: Whether it is life or finding a job, Muslims have a harder time than others. What I can do is not only provide a temporary place to stay and a place to eat, but also organize people who are familiar with American society and law to come here to explain to them American social issues, American legal issues, and New York local laws and regulations. Everyone should live with dignity and should not be treated unfairly by society because of their ethnicity, family, religion, skin color, or political views. Something must be done, not just words.

Reporter: Will it cause some economic pressure?

Ma Ju: Of course there will be. What things in this world do not cause stress?

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