World Refugee Day 2017: UHRP calls for information on returned Uyghur refugees

For immediate Release
June 19, 2017 3:25 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

On World Refugee Day 2017, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) highlights the unknown fate of large numbers of Uyghur refugees forcibly returned to China.

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 and Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture.

UHRP is especially concerned about the fate of over 100 Uyghur refugees forcibly returned to China from Thailand in July 2015. In July 2015; a move criticized by the U.S. State Department, the European Union and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“What has happened to the Uyghurs forcibly returned to China in 2015 from Thailand? We should not be indifferent to their fate. These Uyghurs made a very difficult decision to flee China’s heavy-handed policies. They left their loved ones and homes only to be sent back to their oppressors. To this day, we do not know their condition and the kind of treatment they received in China’s notorious prisons,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat in a statement.

Mr. Kanat added: “International law states refugees should not be forcibly returned to possible state mistreatment. While Uyghurs appreciate the statements of support from the international community in 2015 regarding the return of the Uyghurs from Thailand, we ask for continued vigilance regarding their fate to remind China it cannot openly disregard international human rights standards.”

To this day, approximately 70 Uyghur refugees remain in Thailand unsure if they too will be sent back to China. In 2016, an unknown number of the detained refugees began a hunger strike in protest over their plight and to secure resettlement. 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.”

UHRP also calls for information on other Uyghurs forcibly returned by China from other Southeast Asia states susceptible to Chinese economic and political pressure. This includes: six Uyghurs 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.

Forced returns of Uyghurs have also occurred in Central and South Asian states: Kyrgyzstan (also see here and here), Kazakhstan (also 1999, 2001, 2003, May 2006 and October 2006), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan (2003, 2009 and 2011), Nepal and India.

At a 2016 conference on Uyghur refugees, 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 and for greater transparency from the Chinese over the condition of all forcibly returned Uyghur refugees.

See also:

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

World Uyghur Congress 2016 report: Seeking a Place to Breathe Freely: Current Challenges Faced by Uyghur Refugees & Asylum Seekers