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Liberal MP calls on Ottawa to grant refuge to 10,000 Uyghurs fleeing China

By Steven Chase

June 20, 2022

Protesters gather outside the Ottawa parliament buildings on Feb. 22, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

An MP from Canada’s ruling Liberal Party is filing a parliamentary motion that he hopes will prompt Ottawa to take action against Uyghurs being persecuted by the Chinese government.

Sameer Zuberi will table a motion in the House of Commons on Monday calling on the federal government to make way for 10,000 Uyghurs and members of other Turkish groups who have fled China and are living in third countries.

The parliament is about to rise before the summer, but the motion will be discussed and voted on this fall. It is a non-binding motion, but Mr Zuberi says he is confident he will be able to use the coming months to build support for it to be passed and implemented.

Its resolution is derived from Parliament’s 2021 declaration that China is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other minorities and calls on the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to speed up the entry into Canada of “10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims seeking protection.” need in two years from 2024.”

Mehmet Tohti, a Uyghur-Canadian and executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said there are tens of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities who have fled China to countries in the Middle East and Turkey and are at risk of being returned. Beijing, seeking to silence critics in this diaspora, is urging countries to deport them to China.

“For the Chinese government, controlling these populations is vital to protect its image and the diaspora groups are the ones most actively denouncing Beijing’s violations of human rights,” said Mr Tohti.

Rights groups and media reports say the Chinese government has committed grave human rights violations against the largely Muslim Uyghur population in the Xinjiang region, as well as other minorities. Forced labor and forced relocation to other provinces, Chinese critics say, is the latest stage in a government-led effort to exert control in Xinjiang, which Beijing describes as tainted with extremism.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that nearly one in 25 people in a Xinjiang province has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, which is the highest known prison sentence in the world. The list of convicts is by far the largest to date with the names of imprisoned Uyghurs, reflecting the enormity of a Chinese government campaign that dragged an estimated one million or more people into internment camps and prisons.

It has been nearly 16 months since the House of Commons passed a motion declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities as genocide. Similar findings have been made by the US government and legislators in the US, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Ireland.

However, Canada has done little to act on the motion to date. Despite the change in customs legislation from mid-2020 to ban forced labor imports, Ottawa has failed to intercept a single shipment that it could prove was made under duress.

It is not the first time Canada has been urged to open its doors to Uyghur refugees. A subcommittee on human rights of the House of Commons, of which Mr Zuberi was a member, published a report in 2019 that, among other things, called on Canada to create a committed refugee flow for Uyghurs and other groups persecuted by China. Such a flow has not been established.

The federal government on Sunday defended its refugee record, which in recent years has included special pledges to take in Afghan refugees and Ukrainians fleeing the Russian military attack on their country.

Aidan Strickland, press secretary to Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser, did not immediately answer a question as to why Canada has not made a special commitment to accept refugees for Uyghurs or other groups persecuted by China.

However she said Canada prioritizes those requiring asylum in terms of vulnerability, not nationality or religion – in keeping with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement handbook.

“At this time, Canada has no special measures for Uyghurs. However, cases requiring urgent attention are identified for priority processing,” Ms. Strickland said.

She said, however, that Canada prioritizes asylum seekers in terms of vulnerability, not nationality or religion — in accordance with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee Resettlement Handbook.

“Currently, Canada has no special measures for Uyghurs. However, cases are being identified that require urgent attention for priority treatment,” said Ms Strickland.

However, she said Canada is always exploring more options for taking in refugees. “We will continue to look at more ways Canada can host refugees,” she said.

Mr. Tohti said the federal government is busy resettling Afghans who have escaped the Taliban and Ukrainians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s military attack.

With a report from The Associated Press


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