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China: Account for Forcibly Returned Uighurs

Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan Appear to Succumb to Chinese Demands to Deport

(Washington, DC) – China should account for Chinese citizens of Uighur ethnicity who were forcibly returned from three Asian countries on August 6 and August 8, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Chinese government. The Chinese government should also stop pressuring other governments to return Uighurs without allowing them the opportunity to challenge their deportations or to seek asylum, Human Rights Watch said.

Malaysia forcibly returned at least 11 Uighurs on August 6. On the same day, the Thai government turned over an ethnic Uighur, Nur Muhammed, to Chinese diplomats in Bangkok. On August 8, Pakistan deported five blindfolded and handcuffed Uighurs, including a woman and two children, to China, media reports said.

“Uighurs disappear into a black hole after being deported to China,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. “We want to know what happens to them once they are in the hands of the Chinese authorities.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to account for the legal status and well-being of Uighurs who have been forcibly returned from Malaysia, Thailand, and Pakistan, as well as those earlier returned from Kazakhstan and Cambodia.

China’s efforts to pressure governments to return Uighurs summarily without affording them due process rights, including the right to seek asylum, are incompatible with China’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said. China is a member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Executive Committee and is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as other international human rights treaties.

“China appears to be conducting a concerted campaign to identify and press for the return of Uighurs from countries throughout Asia,” Frelick said. “China should stop pressuring other governments to violate the international prohibition against forced return.”

The latest forced returns of Uighurs are part of a pattern that includes Kazakhstan’s deportation of Ershidin Israil in May and Cambodia’s forced return of 20 Uighurs on December 19, 2009. The 20 Uighurs in Cambodia, including a pregnant woman and two infants, were forced aboard a plane reportedly chartered by the Chinese government even though they had been issued “Persons of Concern” letters by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which should have protected them from being returned. No word about the status or well-being of any of this group has been heard since their forced return 20 months ago.

Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to account for the whereabouts, conditions, and legal status of the following people believed to have been forcibly returned to China:

  • The 11 Uighurs deported from Malaysia on August 6;
  • Nur Muhammed, deported from Thailand on August 6;
  • Muhammed Tohti Metrozi, a Uighur deported from Pakistan in July 2003, and the six Uighurs deported from Pakistan on August 8, including Manzokra Mamad;
  • The 20 Uighurs deported from Cambodia on December 29, 2009;
  • Four Uighurs deported from Kazakhstan, including Ahmet Memet and Turgun Abbas in December 2001, Abdukakhar Idris in April or May 2003, and Ershidin Israel on May 30, 2011; and
  • Abdu Allah Sattar and Kheyum Whashim Ali, deported from Nepal in 2002.

“China should promptly allow international organizations access to the returned Uighurs, wherever they may be,” Frelick said. “Every day that they are unaccounted for increases the concerns for their safety and well-being.” 

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