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Canadian Parliament Urges Government to Accept 10,000 Uyghur Refugees  

FILE - An ethnic Uyghur girl holds an East Turkestan flag during a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 31, 2022. "Uyghurs who fled to countries like Turkey are vulnerable for being repatriated to China," a Uyghur activist in Canada told VOA.
FILE - An ethnic Uyghur girl holds an East Turkestan flag during a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 31, 2022. "Uyghurs who fled to countries like Turkey are vulnerable for being repatriated to China," a Uyghur activist in Canada told VOA.

Members of the Canadian Parliament have urged the government to expedite the resettlement to Canada of Uyghur refugees now living in third countries.

The Parliament voted Tuesday on a motion from Conservative MP Garnett Genuis to reaffirm its recognition of the Uyghur genocide in China and to call for special immigration measures to assist Uyghur refugees at risk of deportation to China from third countries.

"House of Commons thankfully endorsed that motion," Genuis told VOA.

Almost 50,000 Uyghur refugees are living in Turkey, and smaller numbers of Uyghurs who fled China are in countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, from where Uyghurs were deported to China in recent years.

Another motion, debated Wednesday in Parliament, calls on Ottawa to expedite the entry of Uyghur refugees.

"[My motion] calls on Canada to welcome 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities over two years starting in 2024," Sameer Zuberi, chair of Parliament's Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international human rights, told VOA. "It builds on the House of Commons' formal recognition in February 2021 that a genocide has been taking place against the Uyghur people."

Genocide designation

Canada became the second country to recognize China's treatment of Uyghurs as genocide in February 2021. The U.S. was the first country to designate human rights violations against Uyghurs in China as genocide in January of the same year. Other legislative bodies in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Ireland have made similar determinations since.

The government of Canada has sanctioned four individuals and one entity for their roles in human rights violations in Xinjiang.

A report by the Canadian Parliament's Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international human rights published in October 2020 contained recommendations calling on Canada to uphold basic human rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

"One of the recommendations of this report is for the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to expedite the entry into Canada of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities," Zuberi said. "If passed by the House of Commons, my motion will give life to this recommendation."

According to Mehmet Tohti, executive director of Ottawa-based Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, most Uyghur refugees who live in third countries are in danger of being sent back to China.

"Uyghurs who fled to countries like Turkey are vulnerable for being repatriated to China," Tohti told VOA. "Countries like Turkey where most Uyghur refugees live depend on China economically and that can influence those countries' decision on how to deal with Uyghur refugees, like intimidating them to return to China."

Detention, deportation

According to a report released in June 2021 by the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs and Uyghur Human Rights Project, there were 1,546 cases of detention and deportation of Uyghurs in at least 28 countries between 1997 and March 2021.

"[M]ost notably in much of the Middle East and North Africa with 647 cases, and in South Asia with 665 cases," the report said. "The dataset contains 1,151 cases of Uyghurs being detained in their host country and 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported, extradited or rendered back to China."

"Uyghurs' futures in those countries are far from certain. They do not have safe refuge," Zuberi said. "In the spirit of Canada's proud humanitarian tradition, where Yazidis, Syrians, Afghans and recently Ukrainians have been welcomed, I am hoping that Canada can again step up and resettle vulnerable Uyghurs."

According to Zuberi, after Wednesday's hour of debate of his motion at Parliament, there will be a second hour of debate in December, followed by a vote in mid-December or early February.

If endorsed, the bill requires that within 120 days following the adoption of the motion, a report must be completed on how the refugee resettlement plan would be implemented.

Human rights

Canada's Immigration Ministry spokesperson, Remi Lariviere, said Canada is "deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations in Xinjiang affecting Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, as outlined in a recent U.N. report.

"The Government of Canada remains committed to providing protection to vulnerable individuals in need of resettlement," Lariviere told VOA in an email. "Our resettlement programs are available to those most in need of protection around the world, including Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities who have fled persecution in China."

In August, the U.N. Human Rights Office asserted in a report on human rights in Xinjiang that China "may have committed crimes against humanity" against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including arbitrary detention, credible allegations of torture, forced labor, forced sterilization, sexual violence and adverse conditions of detention.

China claimed the U.N. report was based on "disinformation and draws erroneous conclusions" about human rights in Xinjiang.

According to Lariviere, Canada relies on referrals from the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), other designated referral organizations and private sponsorship groups to identify refugees in need of resettlement.

"Our first priority is the safety of Uyghur refugees. We therefore cannot provide any details on our efforts or plans since it could put this vulnerable population at risk," Lariviere said.