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Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness

Uyghur Human Rights Project, April 1, 2020

UHRP – UHRP’s new report, “Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” documents an ongoing and worsening issue facing Uyghurs abroad, namely refusal to renew passports and denial of access to other documentation by the Chinese government.

For several years, Uyghurs have been unable to renew their passports at Chinese embassies and consulates as other P.R.C. citizens are able to do.  Instead, Chinese embassy officials destroy their existing passports and replace them with one-way travel documents in order to force them to return, where they face extrajudicial detention or imprisonment.

For years Uyghurs have faced obstacles in obtaining the documentation allowing them to travel abroad, a violation of their “right to leave,” as inscribed in international law. While in the past, Uyghurs would have to pay enormous bribes required to obtain a passport and had them frequently confiscated by the authorities, in recent years even applying for a passport and not traveling abroad has become grounds for being sent to a concentration camp.

Uyghurs are now effectively denied the right to a passport and have their freedom of movement denied both in their homeland and abroad. Lack of documentation impacts the livelihoods, marriages, living situations, and educations of Uyghurs abroad, and places them at elevated risk of refoulment.

“International law is clear: the right to leave one’s country is a fundamental right,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat. “It is yet one more right Uyghurs are denied on the basis of their ethnicity. The international community must recognize the enormous danger being undocumented places Uyghurs in, and take steps to mitigate it. There are immediate actions they can take to help Uyghurs.”

Inability to obtain passport renewals and other documentation adds immeasurably to the difficulties faced by Uyghurs abroad, and threatens them with the possibility of becoming a stateless person.  As more and more Uyghurs’ passports expire, this could become a full-blown crisis without action by the international community.  Individual states can take immediate action to alleviate the situation ensuring that Uyghurs residing in their country are granted legal status and documentation and access to public services such as schools in a timely manner.

Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness” features first person interviews with Uyghurs affected by denial of documentation, an overview of media reports on the issue and recommendations for nations and international institutions on how to address the issue.  There recommendations include:

  • UNHCR should give Uyghurs effective access to Convention Travel Documents and take steps to ensure that Uyghurs in particular are granted access to asylum procedures in host countries.
  • States hosting Uyghurs should pass legislation aimed at preventing generation to generation statelessness among stateless people within their territories and ensure Uyghurs and others, particularly children, are able to obtain proper documentation.
  • Nations should grant Uyghur asylum seekers legal status in a timely manner and follow the lead of nations like Sweden and Germany by making a commitment not to deport Uyghurs to China.
  • The Chinese government should immediately grant requested travel documents, such as passports, to citizens abroad without prejudice based on ethnic origin and uphold the Passport Law of the People’s Republic of China, in particular Article 2, which states that citizens cannot be deprived of their right to a passport without reasonable justification.

The report can be read in full here: