World Uyghur Congress, 2 June 2016
Following extensive first hand research working directly with Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers who fled to Turkey from East Turkestan, the WUC has published a comprehensive report detailing current conditions in the region as well as the narratives of those whose escape lasted many months. The report, Seeking a Place to Breathe Freely: Current Challenges Faced by Uyghur Refugees & Asylum Seekers, offers a unique, first-hand glimpse into conditions seldom reported and scarcely heard by the international community until now.
Central to the report are the voices of those who decided that they were no longer able to bear the brunt of the repressive Chinese regime for so many years. We heard stories of men who were arrested and tortured for organizing cultural events, women arrested for wearing the hijab, and children who were left without parents after many were detained for indefinite periods.
The general feeling from all those whom we spoke with was of utter helplessness—a near total lack of autonomy or control over their own lives. State controls have become so intense in the region that many felt that they had little choice but to escape with the help of human smugglers.
We recount the vivid details of these clandestine journeys made through China, across the border into Southeast Asia and eventually onto Turkey—all of which have resulted in untold suffering including tremendous financial losses, long arrests, and the cold separation of family members throughout.
The report then looks better understand the motivations behind the decision many made to leave. We were told that cultural and religious restrictions, severe controls on freedom of movement, arbitrary arrests and decrepit conditions and treatment in prison were some of the prime motivating factors. The interviewees were able to sketch a quite clear picture of what is has been like to live as a Uyghur for decades under increasingly strict controls by the Chinese government.
Additionally, the report looks to better contextualize issues faced by Uyghurs who have fled China. We looked to position the Uyghur refugee issue in relation to international law and some of the barriers that continue to persist that have made the Uyghur asylum process very tenuous.
Key recommendations derived from the report are as follows (more detailed recommendations are included in the report itself):
- China must observe international law and discontinue its harsh and inexcusable repression of the Uyghur population in East Turkestan – particularly those who have been unjustly detained in the past and continue to face severe consequences upon their release.
- The UNHCR must continue to develop a competent interstate supervisory body to hold states accountable if they fail to meet their protection obligations under the Refugee Convention.
- UNHCR officials must recognize the severity of the situation among Uyghur refugees and the consequences faced by those who have been returned in the past.
- States on China’s border and extended periphery, particularly Thailand and Malaysia, must observe international law with regards to their handling of Uyghur refugees.
- Southeast Asian states in particular must take steps to ensure that rampant corruption witnessed by Uyghur refugees is rooted out.
- The Turkish government must recognize the rights of Uyghur asylum seekers who have landed in Turkey.
- Other states on China’s border to the west (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) must uphold international law and ensure that political and economic considerations, namely the influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, do not trump international law.
The overarching goal of the report has been to overcome the persistent obstacle that impedes our understanding of how members of the Uyghur population in China are coping with state policies. It is our intention to make these findings available to all interested parties including those working in government or civil society, and the general public.
The report can be downloaded here.