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Three Uyghur brothers who fled into India a decade ago aim to seek asylum in Canada

Detained since 2013, the brothers face threat of deportation to China, lawyer says

By Jilil Kashgary for RFA Uyghur

June 21, 2023

Adil, Abduhaliq and Abdusalam Tursun crossed the Indian border in Kashmir in June 2013.

Three Uyghur brothers who escaped from China’s far western Xinjiang province a decade ago – and have been detained in India ever since – are aiming to seek asylum in Canada, their lawyer said.

After 10 years of being detained in India and unsuccessfully seeking asylum there, they face the growing prospect of being deported to China, said their lawyer, Muhammed Shafi Lassu.

“This (Indian) government feels threatened by China, which is why they are hesitant to release these individuals and grant them political asylum, which they are actively avoiding,” Lassu told Radio Free Asia in an interview last week. “In a way, they prefer to keep them detained.”

Since their arrest in 2013 in the northern India-administered region of Jammu & Kashmir, the brothers – Adil, Abduhaliq and Abdusalam Tursun – have been moved around to various detention centers in Kashmir. They are now being held in a prison in Jammu city, Lassu said.

Lassu said that if any country were to offer the three Tursun brothers political asylum, he would petition the Supreme Court of India to seek their release.

In February, Canada offered to resettle 10,000 Uyghur refugees, giving them new hope.

To help people apply for asylum, a humanitarian group called the Canadian Uyghur Rights Advocate Project has set up an online application that Lassu said he plans to use on the brothers' behalf.

Hopefully that will bring better results than his previous attempts to write the Canadian government to request asylum, which have not elicited any response, he said.

Lassu said he also wrote to several Arab countries on behalf of the brothers, but said officials there “showed no concern for the violation of human rights.”

The United States and the United Nations have urged against the repatriation of Uyghur refugees to China, where there is a growing body of evidence documenting the detention of up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in “re-education” camps, torture, sexual abuse and forced labor.

Crossing mountains

Facing persecution from the Chinese government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the three Tursun brothers in 2013 – aged 16, 18 and 20 at the time – trekked through the rugged Karakoram Mountain Range and crossed into India in the Ladakh region of Kashmir.

They were apprehended by the Indo-Tibetan Armed Police Force, a division of the local Indian Border Guard Forces, and detained for about two months.

The brothers admitted to crossing the border and were transferred to a police station in Leh in Jammu, Kashmir, Lassu said. In July 2014, they were charged with illegal entry and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

But Indian authorities later re-indicted the brothers under a special security law in Kashmir and have extended their detention every six months for the last 10 years, Lassu said.

“This law is exceptionally stringent, allowing the government to detain individuals without trial,” he said.

The brothers have managed to maintain their religious worship and have learned Urdu, Hindi and English during their time in captivity, Lassu said.

“They pray five times a day in prison and read the Quran,” he said. “They fast during Ramadan. They have always maintained their religious dedication.”

Risk of deportation

They are in danger of being sent back to China, according to Akash Hassan, an independent Kashmiri journalist who has written several articles about their case.

Hassan said the Indian government has instructed “relevant authorities to initiate the repatriation process. Therefore, there is a possibility that these individuals will be sent back to China at any moment.”

Lassu said he has also reached out to the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, for help with the asylum request.

“They emphasized that if the government officially recognizes these individuals as refugees, the UNHCR will provide them with all kinds of support and assistance,” he told RFA.

But UNHCR doesn’t have those same requirements for other refugees in India, including Rohingya refugees who began fleeing Myanmar in 2012.

RFA sent a list of questions to Rama Dwivedi of UNHCR’s office in India about the brothers’ case on June 13 but has not received a response.

Even if Lassu or another lawyer is able to bring the brothers’ case to the Supreme Court of India, it is very unlikely that the court will rule in their favor, said Hassan, the journalist.

Double standard?

India has a double standard when it comes to treatment of Uyghur and Tibetan refugees, he said.

“On one hand, India welcomes thousands of Tibetan refugees who have fled from the Chinese-controlled Tibet region, and a significant number of Tibetan refugees reside in India,” he said.

“However, the treatment of Uyghurs differs. I believe this discriminatory and disparate treatment is associated with the Muslim identity of the Uyghurs,” he said. “It appears that India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, is increasingly embracing right-wing Hindu nationalism.”

The Indian government should cease returning Uyghur individuals to China and refrain from treating them as criminals, Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said to RFA in a June 13 interview.

Even though India hasn’t signed the U.N. Refugee Convention, it still has an obligation to abide by international law in cases concerning Uyghurs, she said.

Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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