PRESS RELEASE: WUC URGES THE MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT NOT TO DEPORT 11 UYGHUR REFUGEES TO CHINA
The World Uyghur Congress is deeply concerned by reports that the 11 Uyghurs refugees in detention in Malaysia are at significant risk of being deported to China. If returned to China, they would be at significant risk of being subjected to severe human rights violations including arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearance and death, due to their ethnic identity. We strongly urge the Malaysian government to abide by international human rights standards and refrain from returning 11 innocent people to a country which would subject them to irreparable harm.
The Uyghur refugees were arrested in Pahang, Malaysia by police on 4 January 2018 after escaping from a Thai Refugee Detention Centre in November 2017. They had been held in detention in Thailand since early 2014. Twenty Uyghurs in total managed to escape the detention center, but 3 were caught by police while still in Thailand and 6 were caught in Malaysia and deported to Thailand afterwards. The remaining 11 were hiding in Malaysia until they were arrested at the beginning of January.
This smaller group also belonged to a larger group of several hundred who were detained back in 2014 in Songhla, a southern region of Thailand. After one year, Thai authorities let 173 Uyghurs, mostly women and children, to be transferred to Turkey and subsequently deported 109 to China just days later. No information has yet been released on their whereabouts and it is our concern that the 11 Uyghurs arrested in Malaysia may suffer a similar fate.
Desperation on the part of those still detained has been demonstrated by a number of escape attempts and at least two hunger strikes in 2015 and 2016 to protest their poor treatment, challenge the legality of their indefinite detention, and bring greater attention to their circumstances. Part of the group took their case to a Thai court to adjudicate in 2015, claiming that their detention was prolonged and arbitrary, but were ultimately rejected.
In response to their escape, the Chinese government has called on Thailand to “quickly bring to justice” those who escaped. Today, multiple media outlets reported that the Chinese government has been pressuring the Malaysian government to return all 11 refugees back to China. Real concern remains over the use of problematic language in the past by China, who has largely framed the issue of Uyghurs escaping East Turkestan through Southeast Asia as one of criminality, despite no court ever weighing in on the case in that respect.
The Chinese government has a long history of pursuing Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers beyond its borders, using its growing influence and economic power to pressure national governments to return them to China. In the past 15 years, over 300 Uyghurs have been forcibly returned to China from 16 different countries. In 2017, we witnessed the forced return of Uyghur students from Egypt while studying overseas, with at least 22 Uyghurs students being forcibly returned to China. As is sadly common in the vast majority of these cases, there has been no information about their welfare or whereabouts since being deported to China.
It is unconscionable that these 11 Uyghurs have been put in this position. Not only have they had to endure arbitrary detention in Thailand for over 3 years, for trying to flee persecution and repression in China, now they may be forced to return to country from which they fled in the first place. These 11 human beings only wanted a better life for themselves and their families where they could enjoy their basic rights and freedoms. They now find their very lives at risk.
We appeal to the international community to take concrete action to prevent the deportation of these 11 Uyghur refugees to China. Those who believe strongly in the intrinsic value of human life and the good that the human rights system brings to the world must speak up to protect them. We urge the Malaysian government to see the humanity of these 11 refugees and not send them into a situation where their basic rights and lives are at risk.