Congressional-Executive Commission on China Hearing on Protection from Persecution: Establishing Humanitarian Pathways for Hong Kongers and Uyghurs


October 19, 2021

Statement for the Record Uyghur Human Rights Project

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) makes six recommendations for an urgent response to the ongoing refugee crisis caused by the Chinese government’s genocidal policies targeting Uyghurs as an ethno-religious group.


  1. Expedite the asylum cases of Uyghurs already in the United States. Some Uyghurs have been waiting up to seven years for a decision. The Department of Homeland Security should instruct USCIS to move forward pending cases as quickly as possible. .
  2. Create a refugee resettlement program for Uyghurs. The U.S. State Department should grant access to the Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for Uyghurs stranded in third countries without the need for UNHCR processing.
  3. Ensure that Uyghur resettlement is not impeded by lack of documentation, such as current passports and official copies of birth certificates, which the Chinese government refuses to provide to Uyghurs abroad. The U.S. and other nations should ensure that Uyghurs have access to travel documents necessary to reach safety.
  4. Address the separation of Uyghur children from their families by identifying pathways for reunification of Uyghur families in the United States or wherever relatives have settled.
  5. Punish and deter the harassment of the Uyghur diaspora in the United States and globally. Investigate reports of Chinese government harassment, intimidation, threats, pressure to spy against the Uyghur community and impose consequences for these violations of their civil rights under law.
  6. Encourage other nations to take similar steps by pledging not to subject Uyghurs to refoulement to China, and to stand up a multi-lateral resettlement program.

Issues facing Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers

The refugee crisis: The Chinese government has created both an unprecedented human rights crisis in the Uyghur homeland, but has also created a less well-known refugee crisis. China is one of the few countries that systematically and pro-actively seeks to pursue large numbers of citizens living in other countries and pressure governments to detain them or forcibly return them to China.

UHRP and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs have documented 1,327 Uyghur individuals who were detained or rendered to China from 20 countries, 2014 to March 2021.1Uyghur Human Rights Project, “No Space Left to Run: China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs,” June 24, 2021, online. Unreported cases would likely raise these figures substantially, with our database presenting just the tip of the iceberg due to reliance on publicly reported instances of repression.

Even as the international community has become aware of the dangers Uyghurs face if returned to China, there remains a significant threat of refoulement. The beginning of the crackdown in 2017 was marked by Chinese officials ordering Uyghurs residing abroad to return to their hometowns; those who did not were intimidated with threats to family members.

UHRP commends CECC for documenting the pressure on Uyghurs abroad in its Annual Reports, and for its series of hearings on China’s “long arm” of repression and global efforts to silence critics and victims.2Congressional Executive Commission on China, The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics From Tiananmen to Today, May 24, 2016, online. UHRP is also grateful to other Congressional bodies for calling attention to transnational repression, such as USCIRF’s condemnation of deportations of from Egypt, when local security services seized and deported Uyghur students at China’s request in 2017.3United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “USCIRF Condemns Egypt’s Deportation of Uighur Muslims to China,” August 2, 2017, online.

Uyghur statelessness due to the weaponization of passports: An increasing number of Uyghurs abroad are threatened by the extreme vulnerability of statelessness, due to Chinese government policies.

UHRP has documented numerous cases of Uyghurs having their PRC passports seized and destroyed at Chinese embassies and consulates when they attempt to renew them.4Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” April 1, 2020, online. Chinese consular officials then issue a one-way return to China, claiming that passports can only be renewed there, despite Chinese law saying otherwise. If returned to China, Uyghurs face extrajudicial detention and torture. Travel abroad is a major reason cited for detaining individuals in extrajudicial camps, and numerous Uyghurs have disappeared upon their return.

The refusal of the Chinese government to issue Uyghurs passports amounts to a violation of their “right to leave,” established in international law.5Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Uyghurs to China: Return our Relatives’ Passports,” August 6, 2021, online. The seizure and destruction of the passports of Uyghurs overseas constitutes a further violation of the rights to freedom of movement by the Chinese government and is creating a statelessness crisis. Chinese officials create further difficulties for Uyghurs by denying them access to official documents such as birth and wedding certificates, causing many in the diaspora to become undocumented. Uyghur children who are born abroad in countries such as Turkey are unable to obtain any identity documents, rendering them stateless people.

Numerous Uyghurs children have been stranded in Turkey without one or both of their parents since the beginning of the crackdown.6Eric Randolph, “China took their parents: the Uighur refugee children of Turkey,” AFP, December 30, 2019, online.

Transnational harassment and threats: Harassment by Chinese officials is a persistent issue for Uyghurs abroad, including in the United States.7Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Repression Across Borders: The CCP’s Illegal Harassment and Coercion of Uyghur Americans,” August 28, 2019, online. As noted in the February 2021 Freedom House report, Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach: Understanding Transnational Repression, “The Chinese government’s campaign reaches the most people globally due to the broad range of groups under threat and the sheer number of countries where individuals face repression. Members of ethnic and religious minorities, former insiders of the Chinese Communist Party, human rights defenders, and increasingly, people from Hong Kong—all have been subjected to serious forms of transnational repression, including assassination attempts and renditions.”8Freedom House, “Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach: Understanding Transnational Repression,” February 2021, online.

Chinese officials continue to use threats and harassment to attempt to coerce Uyghurs into returning. The diaspora community is increasingly afraid that countries that traditionally provided a safe haven are giving into Chinese pressure and incentives to deport Uyghurs. A pending extradition treaty in Turkey has caused Uyghurs there to fear that deportations will increase;9Eva Xiao, “Exiled Uighurs in Turkey Fear China’s Long Reach—‘We Are All Panicking Now,’” Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2021, online. In Kazakhstan, the government’s quiet efforts to have its naturalized citizens freed from the camps has not prevented it from putting increasing pressure on the community of victims to cease speaking out.10Laura Pitel, Christian Shepherd, and Max Seddon, “Xinjiang campaigner says China pressure led him to flee Kazakhstan,” Financial Times, December 26, 2020, online.

Years-long delays in U.S. asylum decisions for Uyghurs: Uyghur asylum seekers already in the United States face extremely long wait times before a decision is made in their cases, with some waiting as long as four or five years.11James T. Areddy and Michelle Hackman, “China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck in U.S. Immigration Limbo,” Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2020, online. In many cases it is those who have been waiting the longest who continue to be affected by the refugee backlog, while more recent applicants are approved relatively quickly.

Although the U.S. has an exemplary track record of not deporting Uyghurs, America must do more to grant prompt asylum to victims of religious repression, and victims, and, as in the case of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, victims of genocide.

Submitted by:

Uyghur Human Rights Project 1602 L Street, NW, Suite 613
Washington, DC 20036


Louisa Greve, Director of Global Advocacy Email:
Phone: +1.571.882.4825