World Refugee Day 2018: End Forced Returns of Uyghurs

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For immediate Release
June 19, 2018 1:30 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on states to end forced returns of Uyghur refugees as human rights conditions deteriorate in East Turkestan. UHRP urges states to grant asylum to Uyghur refugees currently seeking formal protection from Chinese government and to offer sanctuary to Uyghurs overseas whose fear of China has prevented them from officially applying for refuge.

“Some states have been eager to forcibly return Uyghur refugees to China despite an obvious fear of the Chinese government among these individuals. In the context of fierce repression in East Turkestan, the refoulement of Uyghurs into the hands of their persecutors must end. The criminalization of the Uyghur ethnicity in China means any Uyghur forcibly returned faces internment in a reeducation camp or worse,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat.

Mr. Kanat added: “States should look to ways of providing sanctuary to Uyghurs overseas and to extending refuge to Uyghurs who have formally applied for asylum. China has denied overseas Uyghurs renewal of their passports forcing many to make the difficult decision of returning to East Turkestan and detention or living without papers abroad.”

States mostly bordering China have forcibly returned Uyghur refugees often under heavy pressure from Chinese officials. Countries in Central Asia and Southeast Asia are most notable in their compliance with Chinese requests. UHRP is especially concerned about the fate of over 100 Uyghur refugees forcibly returned to China from Thailand in July 2015; a decision criticized by the U.S. State Department, the European Union and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Since 2017, China has detained possibly over a million Uyghurs in ‘reeducation camps.’ Authorities have interned some Uyghurs for their overseas connections either through having relatives abroad or having resided outside of China. The Chinese authorities signaled their intention to pressure Uyghurs residing overseas to return to China by denying renewals of Uyghurs’ passports at Chinese consulates. Furthermore, China ordered Uyghur students in Egypt back to East Turkestan by May 20, 2018 to have their political views investigated. Radio Free Asia reported the cooperation of Egyptian intelligence to enforce the demand. China issued similar threats to Uyghur students in Turkey and the United States.

Uyghur students told RFA reporters returned students either had disappeared or been jailed. Following a closed-door trial, Buzainap Adbureshit, a student returned from Egypt, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The charges made against her and her current location remain unknown. In an article dated May 29, 2018, RFA detailed how student Gulgine Tashmemet returned to Ghulja from Malaysia after completing her studies out of concern for her family with whom she had lost contact. Since her return her current whereabouts is unknown and she is believed to have been detained in a ‘reeducation camp.’ On December 21, 2017, RFA described how Abdusalam Mamat and Yasinjan, who had voluntarily returned to China from Egypt, died while in police custody.

UHRP believes these cases evidence a pattern of repression targeting Uyghurs in East Turkestan who have returned from overseas. UHRP urges states to grant refuge to Uyghur asylum seekers and offer sanctuary to Uyghurs residing within their borders who may have been denied passports. UHRP reminds states that under the principle of non-refoulement, contained in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, Uyghurs should not be deported to China, as they face the high probability of persecution.

See also:

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

Uyghur Human Rights Project, They Can’t Send Me Back: Uyghur Asylum Seekers in Europe, (2011)