Up to 1,000 Uyghurs Stuck in U.S. Asylum System for Years, According to New UHRP Report

No Time to Lost Image

April 11, 2023 | 7:00 a.m. EST
For Immediate Release
Contact: Omer Kanat +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin +1 (646) 906-7722

The Uyghur Human Rights Project’s (UHRP) new report, No Time to Lose: Uyghurs Stuck in the United States Asylum System, highlights the plight of Uyghur asylum seekers in the U.S. suffering long delays in the asylum process. 

There are an estimated 500 to 1,000 Uyghurs waiting for resolution of their asylum applications. UHRP’s research highlights wait times of up to eight years. Under U.S. law, cases are supposed to be resolved within six months.

Uyghur asylum seekers stuck in the U.S. system have no time to lose. Under intense pressure from China’s transnational repression, and experiencing deep trauma as secondary survivors of an ongoing genocide, Uyghurs are anxious to be assured of safe haven in the United States. Resolution of the long-pending asylum cases will enable them to provide for their families, pursue professional degrees, advocate publicly for disappeared relatives in their homeland, and speak out for all Uyghurs suffering atrocity crimes.

In the report, UHRP recommends urgent action by the United States Congress and government agencies, including the multi-agency Task Force responsible for implementing the 2022 U.S. Strategy for responding to atrocities.

We urge Congress to direct U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow for priority processing of Uyghurs and to use the appropriations process to allocate adequate funding to address backlogs; and for civil society to establish partnerships with the Uyghur community to offer additional assistance.

“The United States has been a constant supporter in the push to end the Uyghur genocide. Americans ask me what more the United States can do to support Uyghurs against Chinese government crimes against humanity. Granting political asylum to Uyghurs in the United States is one positive and attainable step,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat

Mr. Kanat added, “The number of Uyghur asylum seekers in the United States is not so large. A quick resolution of these cases is within reach. The U.S. has declared Uyghurs are undergoing a genocide. Uyghurs should receive in a timely manner the peace of mind granted by asylum. Asylees are experiencing significant stress. Cut off from contact with their families, Uyghurs experience pressure on physical and mental well-being, as well as financial strains because of limited incomes. Uyghurs are ready to begin new lives and contribute to the United States.”

UHRP’s report is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with Uyghurs seeking asylum in the U.S., caseloads reported by asylum lawyers, and the experience of the Uyghur American Association and UHRP in assisting asylum-seekers. As of March 2023, delays in most Uyghur cases across the asylum system centered on receiving court dates. 

“Congress should direct U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to implement procedures to allow for priority processing of asylum-seekers who are victims and survivors of genocides and atrocity crimes recognized by a U.S. policy determination,” said Henryk Szadziewski, UHRP Director of Research and author of the report.

Dr. Szadziewski added, “We also call upon the U.S. Task Force on Atrocity Prevention to focus on the asylum backlog. The Task Force should consult with the Uyghur American community to prepare an action plan for facilitating swift decisions on asylum applications by Uyghurs.”

UHRP recognizes Uyghurs are not the only persecuted peoples who have been caught in a system of delay. The financial hardships and emotional stresses described in the report are felt across other communities who have come to the U.S. to seek asylum from their oppressors. It is only right that all backlogged asylum cases are resolved in a timely manner.