PRESS RELEASE: WUC Highlights Plight of Uyghur Refugees and Asylum Seekers on World Refugee Day
On World Refugee Day 2020, the World Uyghur Congress would like to draw attention to the plight of Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers around the world. After an often difficult and dangerous journey, many Uyghurs have been granted refuge in countries across the world, where they are active and contributing members of society. However, escaping ongoing crimes against humanity and horrific persecution in China does not bring an end to their suffering, as Uyghur refugees are still not safe and face a myriad of stresses and vulnerabilities. China’s long arm follows Uyghur refugees and prolongs their suffering.
After fleeing China, the Chinese government relentlessly pursues Uyghur refugees and uses its power and influence to pressure host countries into returning Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers. Once returned, they are subjected to enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other serious human rights violations. In the past 20 years, over 300 confirmed Uyghurs have been forcibly returned to China from 16 different countries. These numbers don’t include the Uyghurs who were secretly returned to China by neighboring states. These individuals were students, refugees, and asylum seekers. In 2014, 109 Uyghurs were returned to China from Thailand, and in 2018 at least 22 Uyghur students were forcibly returned to China from Egypt after Egyptian authorities rounded up approximately 200 Uyghur students in the country, likely at China’s request. A Uyghur asylum seeker was mistakenly expelled from Germany in 2018, after an administrative error. Despite efforts by lawyers and the German government, the Chinese government refused to return him. He disappeared for 6 months and was sentenced to an extended jail sentence under false charges. Hundreds of Uyghur refugees have disappeared in this way.
Uyghur refugees who have settled in a safe host country still are not able to fully escape the Chinese government. The Chinese government regularly contacts, monitors, threatens, and intimidates Uyghurs in the diaspora. They are ordered to spy on other Uyghurs or remain silent on the crisis in East Turkistan and refrain from engaging in any political or human rights activism. The Chinese government uses their family and friends still living in East Turkistan as a tool to control and silence the Uyghur diaspora. Most Uyghur activists have seen their family members detained in the internment camps as punishment for their activism. Even thousands of kilometers away, the Chinese government manages to impose an atmosphere of fear and desperation on the Uyghur diaspora.
It is incredibly painful for Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers to see their friends and family disappear and suffer in East Turkistan. It is difficult to not be able to return home or see your loved ones, still living in East Turkistan. Uyghurs have to watch in desperation as their culture, language, history, religion and ethnic identity is eroded in their homeland. These factors have caused significant psychological trauma in the Uyghur community, but many lack the means to get help. International organizations and agencies have been limited in their help for Uyghur refugees.
The Chinese government refuses to renew the passports of Uyghur refugees, essentially making them stateless and putting them in a very precarious position. This makes it difficult for Uyghurs to obtain refugee status or claim asylum, find employment, avail of government services, or establish a life in their host country. It is another way in which the Chinese government seeks to control and persecute vulnerable people, just because of their Uyghur ethnicity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation further. In Turkey, there is a large percentage of Uyghur refugees without a passport or permanent residency, rendering them stateless. Among those most vulnerable are more than 2,000 students, over 1,000 orphans and 1,000 single mothers who have been separated from their husbands and families due to China’s crackdown on Uyghurs. This pandemic has added further misery to their daily struggles; many are not able to pay rent or utility bills and they cannot afford medical care or the basic cost of living. They have not received adequate aid or attention and their situation continues to deteriorate. The World Uyghur Congress has set up a fund to help these vulnerable Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers.
Uyghur refugees deserve safety and security, not fear, harassment, and uncertainty. We urge the international community to embrace and support Uyghur refugees who have already suffered greatly.
On World Refugee Day, the World Uyghur Congress strongly urges the international community to:
- Abide by their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle on non-refoulment and immediately cease any extradition of Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers to China, where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations including enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture.
- Strongly condemn China’s harassment of the Uyghur diaspora community and its acts of reprisals against the family members of Uyghurs in the diaspora for their human rights activism or political engagement.
- Protect Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers from harassment, intimidation, and threats from the Chinese government.
- Demand that China re-open lines of communication between the Uyghur diaspora and the family and friends still living in East Turkistan.
- Call on UNHCR to take meaningful action on the situation of Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers.