PRESS RELEASE: World Uyghur Congress Appreciates Joint Effort to Protect Uyghur Asylum Seeker
As a result of the quick work of the US State Department, Uyghur organisations and activists, Ablikim Yusup, a Uyghur man who was under threat of deportation to China from Qatar was allowed to travel to the United States as a safe third country.
Ablikim, 53, lived in Pakistan since 1997 after fleeing China, but felt increasingly insecure given the developing relationship between the two countries. He fled Pakistan on July 31 to Bosnia where he was returned to Doha International Airport and was under immediate threat of deportation directly back to China.
Ablikim’s case became known by concerned governments and rights groups as he released videos on social media explaining his predicament, which were in turn amplified by journalists and the general public. The collective effort illustrates the strength of a coordinated response from civil society and the importance of rapid mobilisation.
This is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, case of a Uyghur asylum seeker under immediate risk of deportation to China. The Uyghur Congress has compiled a detailed list of over 300 Uyghur asylum seekers who have been forcibly returned to China since 1997 from 16 countries including 109 from Thailand in 2014, and 22 students from Egypt in 2017.
Since early 2017, China began rounding up Uyghurs and holding them without charge in political indoctrination centers—effectively internment camps. Uyghurs living abroad have been particular targets for the Chinese government, many of whom voluntarily returned to then be detained in one of the many camps. Estimates in August 2019 put the total number of those detained from 1-3 million.
Basic rights for Uyghurs are non-existent, including nearly all legal rights, rights to expression, religious freedom, assembly and movement. In 2017, DNA, blood samples and iris scans were taken from all Uyghurs in the region and entered into a centralized database to be used for monitoring and control. Ubiquitous surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software reinforces the work of police on the ground on nearly every corner.
Under no circumstances should Uyghur or Turkic asylum seekers be forcibly returned to China given the conditions on the ground at the moment. Forced return in this case is equivalent to immediate arbitrary detention in an internment camp—or often worse.
Sweden and Germany have already implemented policies to halt the deportation of Uyghurs—something that should be considered in all states wishing to respect the Refugee Convention and clear international law.
While we deeply appreciate the work of the US State Department’s intervention, we hope the rest of the international community will take steps to ensure Uyghurs are provided protection going forward.