New report on Uyghur refugees accuses UN Refugee Agency of failing to protect Uyghurs outside China

by Uyghur Times

Uyghur Times Staff

June 20, 2023

In a damning report titled “I Escaped, But Not to Freedom”: Failure to Protect Uyghur Refugees, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has accused the United Nations’ global refugee agency of failing to fulfill its mandate to safeguard Uyghurs who have fled their homeland. The report highlights the influence exerted by the Chinese government on host states and points out institutional shortcomings within the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), resulting in a lack of meaningful protection for Uyghurs under the international refugee regime.

In a press release, UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said, “Uyghur refugees are under threat from China’s transnational repression in multiple ways. China harasses their families remaining in East Turkistan, to coerce individuals to return to China or to drop their request for refugee status. China strongly pressures host states to deport Uyghurs, and there are far too many cases where UNHCR isn’t helping them.”

According to the report, Uyghurs are facing immense challenges and threats from China’s transnational repression. The Chinese government reportedly harasses the families of Uyghurs remaining in East Turkistan, also known as Uyghurstan, putting pressure on them to return to China or withdraw their refugee status requests. Additionally, China strongly influences host states to deport Uyghurs, exacerbating their vulnerability. The report claims that in many cases, the UNHCR has been ineffective in assisting Uyghurs facing deportation.

To compile the report, the UHRP conducted interviews with Uyghur refugees in Turkey, Pakistan, and India. These interviews revealed deep fears among Uyghurs about potential deportation to China as well as significant stress caused by concerns for their family members still suffering in East Turkistan. The lack of perceived opportunities for safe haven has left Uyghur refugees feeling powerless, frustrated, and hopeless.

Ben Carrdus, the senior researcher at UHRP and author of the report, highlighted the challenges faced by the UNHCR, stating that the agency frequently falls short in carrying out its mandate. Carrdus emphasized the need for public and private efforts to address the gaps in Uyghur refugee protection.

The UHRP urges governments to adopt a survivor-centered approach to address the refugee emergency. It specifically points to Canada’s plan to resettle 10,000 Uyghur refugees in 2024-2025 as a model to follow. The United States, having already acknowledged China’s mistreatment of Uyghurs as genocide, is called upon to take decisive action by implementing a proactive resettlement program for Uyghurs. 

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