They Can’t Send Me Back: Uyghur Asylum Seekers in Europe

September 20, 2011
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For immediate release
September 20, 2011, 2:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

A new report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) documents the challenges faced by Uyghur asylum seekers in Europe, and examines the reasons why they fled East Turkestan (otherwise known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China) or Central Asia. They Can’t Send Me Back: Uyghur Asylum Seekers in Europe is based on interviews UHRP researchers conducted with 50 Uyghur asylum seekers in Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands in 2010 and 2011.

As the report details, Uyghurs have in recent years been forced to flee severe political, economic and social repression in East Turkestan, as well as institutionalized curbs on the freedom of speech and government efforts to criminalize the expression of Uyghurs’ religious and cultural identity. The asylum applications of Uyghurs who have fled to northern Europe have been handled differently among the various countries where they have sought asylum, despite measures put in place to standardize the treatment of asylum seekers in Europe. While many Uyghurs, in particular those in Norway, are being granted asylum, many more, particularly in Sweden and the Netherlands, are receiving denials and experiencing lengthy appeals processes. Uyghurs interviewed for this report frequently spoke of undergoing what they perceived as a confusing and frightening process.

The majority of the Uyghurs who spoke with UHRP were interviewed at the appeal stage. The asylum cases of many of the interviewees have recently reached a critical point, as they are nearing the end of the appeals processes, and are in danger of being deported back to China or Central Asia.

As illustrated by the accounts presented in the report, rejections of Uyghurs’ asylum applications in Europe are frequently underpinned by a lack of accurate information and little awareness of the repression faced by Uyghurs in China. For instance, UHRP researchers learned that immigration authorities frequently questioned asylum seekers’ accounts of the use of bribery to flee the country, despite abundant documentation of the rampant nature of the bribery of officials in China. Rejections of Uyghurs’ asylum applications also revealed a lack of understanding about the widespread nature of detentions of Uyghurs in East Turkestan, particularly after July 5, 2009 unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi.

Many Uyghur interviewees told UHRP that in the wake of rejections, they were being pressured by government authorities to return to China, and were told that they would face no danger if they returned. It is critical that Uyghur asylum seekers are not deported to China or Central Asia, where they would be vulnerable to torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and a lack of due process.

Based on the findings of this report, UHRP provides a number of recommendations for European governments and national asylum authorities with regard to the treatment of Uyghur asylum seekers and the assessment of their claims for protection. These include recommendations to:

-Adhere to their obligations under the Refugee Convention, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, the principle of non-refoulement and other relevant international agreements when processing Uyghurs’ asylum applications;

-Educate immigration authorities about the status of Uyghurs as an oppressed minority within the People’s Republic of China, and the need to treat Uyghur asylum cases distinctly from those of other Chinese citizens;

-Incorporate information regarding the nature of persecution of Uyghurs in China in country evaluations and in the training of immigration officials, in order to reflect an accurate assessment of the risk to Uyghurs in East Turkestan, particularly in the wake of July 2009 unrest; and

– Incorporate information on the severe persecution experienced by Uyghurs in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in country evaluations and in the training of immigration officials.

UHRP hopes the report and its recommendations will serve as a useful resource to legal representatives, international human rights groups and refugee assistance organizations, and to Uyghur asylum seekers themselves.

Uyghur Human Rights Project report by Henryk Szadziewski and Amy Reger. Download the full report in English here.

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