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Strasbourg court orders Malta not to deport Uyghur couple to China

Home affairs ministry insists Uyghur couple do not qualify for protection

By Jurgen Balzan

January 17, 2023

The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg. Photo by CherryX (CC by-SA 3.0)

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Malta not to forcibly remove two Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity, aditus foundation said on Tuesday.

China is often accused of committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.

In a statement on Tuesday, aditus foundation said it filed an application on Friday 13 January, following the detention of the two Chinese nationals in Safi Barracks.

“They were on the path to being deported to China, a path thankfully interrupted by the Court’s order to Malta not to remove them! We filed the application together with the NGO Safeguard Defenders (Spain), aditus foundation said.

The human rights NGO said the order from the European Court of Human Rights “is yet another condemnation of Malta’s asylum procedure. It keeps on failing those who need in most: persons fleeing persecution and atrocious human rights violations.”

“It is high time that Malta reviews its approach to asylum to ensure that it fulfils its core mission of protecting refugees. In the meantime, aditus foundation will continue our hard work to ensure that asylum-seekers are able to effectively present their claims and that refugees enjoy the protection they are entitled to.”

The two applicants are married Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity and Muslim faith who arrived in Malta in 2016.

Following rejection of their application for International Protection in 2017, the applicants spent years living in hiding in Malta and were issued with a return decision and removal order on 1 August 2022.

The applicants raised a claim based on the principle of non-refoulement before the competent authorities. This was rejected on 12 January.

Subsequently, the applicants flagged to the Court that, if returned, they would face a real risk of being subjected to serious violations of their human rights on account of their ethnicity and religion.

Court was also informed that Malta did not provide them with an effective remedy whereby they could raise their human rights complaints, as required by European human rights law..

“On 12 January, Malta’s immigration authorities informed our clients that their return was imminent. They detained them at Safi Barracks, where our lawyers met with them to discuss the next steps. In Safi Barracks, their mobile phones were confiscated, meaning they would have been unable to call us should the removal have been carried through.”

Safeguard Defenders (Spain) said that “in a mere four pages, the Maltese Board blatantly ignored the extensive documentation produced by the applicants in stating that ‘appellants failed to produce further evidence to substantiate the principle of non-refoulement’.”

The documentation, it said, included clear-cut evidence of transnational persecution of the couple by Chinese authorities through reprisals against their family members in Xinjiang since 2017, as well as the growing series of reports and decisions by competent national and international authorities, including the hard-fought report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of August 2022 that states: “In light of the overall assessment of the human rights situation in XUAR,” or Xinjiang, “countries hosting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities from XUAR should refrain from forcibly returning them, in any circumstance of real risks of breach of the principle of non-refoulement.

Ministry insists Uyghur couple do not qualify for protection

In reply, the home affairs ministry ostensibly insisted that “return is an integral part of immigration and asylum policy.”

While saying that the Maltese authorities respect the order given by the Strasbourg Court, the ministry insisted that the Uyghur couple “have already exhausted” their asylum applications and “do not require any protection in our country.”

“After their request for asylum was not accepted, they spent a number of years living in Malta illegally. Once again, the authorities will be responding to each of the incorrect allegations of the lawyers of these two people,” the ministry said.

It added that efforts by some to disrupt government’s policy only serves to erode the integrity and public trust in the asylum systems, “to the detriment of those who really need protection in our country.”


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