By Catherine Putz
THE DIPLOMAT - August 17, 2016
In May, 98 Uyghurs from China’s Xinjiang were arrested at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport carrying Kyrgyz passports. The group was attempting to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. They had reportedly left on their Chinese passports from Urumqi. According to the Hurriyet Daily News, thye bought tickets to Northern Cyprus and passed through passport checks with those tickets before meeting four men in the transit hall who passed them fake Kyrgyz passports and boarding passes for a flight to Jeddah.
The Uyghurs were to be deported back to China (it’s not clear they have been already) and the four fake passport peddlers were detained by Turkish police. The fake passports reportedly costs 2,500 euro each and the tickets $300.
According to the head of the Kyrgyz passport authority, Taiyrbek Sarpashev, the counterfeiting ring is making a lot of money off Uyghurs trying to get to places like Saudi Arabia. “[The] average for Chinese citizens [to make the Saudi pilgrimage] costs between $10,000 to $20,000; the income of the criminal group is estimated to be more than $1 million,” he said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.