Conference Announcement: World Uyghur Congress Conference on Uyghur Refugees
The WUC, in cooperation with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the Society for Threatened Peoples, will be holding an international conference regarding the plight of Uyghurs fleeing East Turkestan, taking place April 25-26 in Berlin, Germany. The two-day conference will provide a forum to bring together academics, experts, activists, members of civil society and witnesses together to discuss the problem and its underlying sources, as well as to develop a concrete strategy in terms of the remedial approach that must be taken.
The conference will follow up to a report that is currently being written that includes primary research conducted with those that have recently fled East Turkestan. Communication and education will be significant components of the conference itself, but the primary aim will be to move beyond mere conversation and to develop a more rigorous advocacy approach to address root causes as well as problems already facing Uyghurs in- and outside of China today.
The impetus for the WUC’s focus on this issue in particular has been the growing number of Uyghurs who have chosen to flee repression in East Turkestan and cross the border into China’s neighbouring states. As a result, Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers have been mistreated and forcibly deported from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan over the last decade – in blatant violation of international law.
Uyghur flight has been seen in waves, beginning principally in 1949 when many fled to parts of India, Kashmir and Turkey. In the 1960s, another wave of at least 100,000 left the region and fled to parts of the Soviet Union, what is now Central Asia, primarily Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In the 1970s, others fled to Afghanistan. The 1980s and 90s saw Uyghur leave the region as well, but Chinese resistance has hardened in the last two decades.
Following a major outbreak of violence in July, 2009, and a brutal response from the state that saw thousands arbitrarily arrested and many forcibly disappeared, another wave of Uyghurs attempted to flee the region to escape the violence and repression. Following 2009, Chinese security measures made it unbearable for many Uyghurs to remain and carry out quotidian religious and cultural practices. The subsequent years saw state restrictions spike along with Strike Hard campaigns that led to the arrest of over 27,000 in 2014 alone on charges relating to endangering state security.
Most recently on July 8th 2015, 109 Uyghurs that had been held at a Thai immigration detention facility in Bangkok, were forcibly returned to China, in direct violation of international law and the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is in this context that Uyghurs attempting to flee the country have found themselves neither safe at home nor when seeking asylum.
The conference will also come amid the growing number of refugees fleeing their homes as a result of violence and repression – particularly those that have ended up in Germany, as many Uyghurs have in the past. The situation must be seen within the context of this global phenomenon as the Uyghur community increasingly faces the same issues.
As with many of our previously held conferences, we will invite a broad range of participants including members of the Uyghur community, academics with particular interest and expertise on Uyghur and refugee issues, government officials with interest in China and the Uyghur situation as well as human rights defenders. It will be crucial that experts in the field of refugee and international law are present to provide a basis for a legal and humanitarian discussion.
Further details will be provided as the event approaches.