China orders Xinjiang residents to hand in passports

China orders Xinjiang residents to hand in passports

Citizens of restive region of 11m Muslim Uighurs must apply to get papers back

China has ordered all residents in its western frontier region of Xinjiang to hand in their passports, the latest in a series of draconian moves in the restive province home to an 11m Muslim minority.

Citizens of Xinjiang, an oil-rich but ethnically divided region more than six times the size of the UK, must hand their documents to police and apply to get them back if they want to travel, state-controlled newspaper Global Times reported on Thursday. The purpose was to “maintain social order”, the paper said. 

The region’s 11m Uighurs, a Muslim people with linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey who account for roughly half of Xinjiang’s 23m people, have in recent years faced growing restrictions on travel, religion and dress. Authorities have clamped down on symbols of Islam such as beards and the veil, while the province’s 800,000 civil servants are prohibited from taking part in religious activities.

The passport announcement was greeted with anger and dismay by Chinese internet users, who complained they would need to submit unusual amounts of personal information and travel documents to get their passports back. Some Xinjiang residents working in other parts of China have received phone calls telling them to travel home and hand in their passports.