Canada moves to take in 10,000 Uighur refugees

OTTAWA – Canada’s Parliament on Wednesday unanimously passed a motion to take in 10,000 Uighur refugees who fled China but are now facing pressure to return.

The move builds on a February 2021 move by Canadian lawmakers to label Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in its north-western Xinjiang territory as genocide.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in internment camps in the region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labour.

Tens of thousands have fled.

And according to backbench MP Sameer Zuberi, who sponsored the motion, at least 1,600 have been detained in other countries at China’s behest or forcibly repatriated.

At a news conference, Mr Zuberi noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet voted in support of the motion, signalling the government’s “intent to make this happen” even though it is non-binding.

“It is a clear signal that we do not accept human rights violations against the Uighur people,” he said, adding that “what is happening to the Uighurs is unacceptable.”

Mr Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uighur Rights Advocacy Project, told reporters it is a strong message that “will resonate not only in China and in Canada, but around the world.”

The motion says Uighurs who “fled to third countries face pressure and intimidation by the Chinese state to return to China” and accuses Beijing of also applying diplomatic and economic pressure on countries to detain and deport them, “leaving them without a safe haven in the world.”

It proposes resettling 10,000 Uighurs in Canada over two years, starting in 2024.

China has defended its Uighur camps in Xinjiang, saying they are crucial to battling terrorism and providing vocational training to minorities.

But the United States has said China’s repression of Uighurs amounts to “genocide,” and the United Nations has condemned China’s persecution of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.

Mr Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uighur Congress, said: “The Uighur people are under attack: our language, culture, religion, history, ethnic identity.” AFP