World Refugee Day 2016: End Forced Returns of Uyghur Refugees and Resettle Remaining Uyghurs in Thailand to Safe Third Country

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The rights of Uyghur refugees should be protected according to international human rights laws and not violated through Chinese government pressure

For immediate release
June 20, 2016 10:00am EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

On World Refugee Day, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) urges Thailand to resettle all Uyghur refugees in detention to safe third countries and reminds states receiving Uyghur refugees of their obligations under international human rights laws.

UHRP calls for the end of forced returns of Uyghurs to China according to the rights standard outlined in Article 33 of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees:

No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion.

“It is important to highlight the legitimate rights of Uyghur refugees on World Refugee Day. Contrary to the belief of the Chinese government, Uyghur refugees are guaranteed due process and protections under human rights laws. Chinese intimidation of other states through economic or political pressure should not constitute a new kind of international order. China must meet standards on refugees agreed multilaterally and the international community should not allow China to violate them,” said UHRP Director Alim Seytoff.

Mr. Seytoff added: “According to refugee law, Thailand must safely resettle the remaining Uyghurs it has in detention. Returning them to China would send the Uyghurs to possible imprisonment and torture. It is critical at a time when China strengthens its crackdown on Uyghurs that states receiving refugees from East Turkestan resist Chinese overtures and pressure.”

According to a Radio Free Asia (RFA) article dated May 31, 2016 and a World Uyghur Congress (WUC) press release issued the same day, Uyghurs refugees detained in Thailand have begun a hunger strike in order to secure resettlement after months of uncertainty over their fate. Although, it is unclear how many Uyghurs took the action, the number of Uyghur refugees in Thai detention is estimated at approximately seventy. In a letter, the hunger strikers stated:

We believe that it is better to die here rather to be repatriated, tortured and imprisoned in China as we know what they did to our fellow countrymen extradited by Thailand previously.

In July 2015, Thailand forcibly returned over 109 Uyghur refugees to China in a move criticized by the U.S. State Department, the European Union and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Prior to the July returns, a number of Southeast Asian nations susceptible to Chinese economic and political pressure conducted forced deportations of Uyghur refugees. Six Uyghurs were forcibly removed from Malaysia in December 2013; 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia in August 2011 (one of whom was a legal resident according to local Uyghurs); one Uyghur from Thailand in August 2011; seven from Laos in March 2010; 17 from Burma in January 2010; 20 Uyghurs from Cambodia in December 2009 (one of whom had a Cambodian visa); two from Vietnam on an unknown date; and 11 from Vietnam in April 2014. A Uyghur returned to China from Vietnam in 2014 died in prison in Guangxi “under mysterious circumstances” while serving a 11-month sentence for “illegal travel.”

At a WUC organized conference on Uyghur refugees held from April 25 to 26, 2016, UHRP presented research detailing the extent of Uyghur refugees forcibly returned to China. UHRP recorded over twenty-five incidents in sixteen countries, including a number of states bordering China.

At the WUC refugee conference, attendees agreed to a resolution calling on urgent action from UNHCR, the Chinese government and interested states. The resolution stresses the need for observance of Article 33 of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The principle of non-refoulement is also outlined in Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, to which Thailand acceded on October 2, 2007.

See also:

UHRP Director Alim Seyoff’s presentation at the WUC conference on refugees: Hard Lessons and Useful Strategies to Help Uyghur Refugees

WUC 2016 research on Uyghur refugees: Seeking a Place to Breathe Freely: Current Challenges Faced by Uyghur Refugees & Asylum Seekers

UHRP 2011 report: They Can’t Send Me Back: Uyghur Asylum Seekers in Europe