By Sarah Teich and David Matas, October 25, 2022
Canada’s Parliament will have an opportunity this week to change our government’s seeming indifference to the inhumane suffering of Uyghurs in China and beyond. Will MPs answer the call?
The Uyghur population of China are victims of genocide. Millions of Uyghurs are locked up in camps; torture, including sexual violence, is pervasive.
A March 2021 joint report by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights concluded there is clear evidence that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is inflicting genocide on the Uyghur people. In December 2021, an independent public expert tribunal also concluded that, beyond any reasonable doubt, the PRC is committing genocide.
Rights‑respecting nations are making efforts to confront this persecution. The United States Congress recently enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which presumptively bans the import of goods from the Uyghur region. Targeted sanctions have also been levied, and numerous parliaments are calling out the atrocities and demanding accountability.
Yet not enough is being done. Uyghurs in many countries outside of China are at serious risk. The government of China is aggressively engaged in escalating levels of repression against the Uyghur diaspora around the world.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs found there are sustained and concerted efforts by PRC agents to detain and forcibly repatriate Uyghurs from third countries back to China. This danger is especially high for Uyghurs living in countries susceptible to Beijing’s pressure, including Thailand, Egypt, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
In a Wilson Center report published this year, Bradley Jardine documented that from 1997 until January 2022 there were 1,574 publicly reported cases of such detentions and deportations. Jardine found that most of these cases have happened recently: 1,364 between 2014 and 2022 alone, from 18 countries concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa region. He contends the actual figures are likely much higher.
Uyghurs in unsafe third countries need Canadian protection. Uyghur refugees at risk of deportation do not have a durable solution where they are. Resettlement to a rights-respecting state is their only safe option.
Canada must make the resettlement of Uyghur refugees a priority. We have already seen that, where there is political will, Canada has a proud tradition of expediting and resettling vulnerable populations. Within two weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ottawa announced special measures permitting Ukrainian asylum-seekers to enter Canada. Likewise, in 2016 Operation Syrian Refugees saw 26,172 Syrian refugees resettled in Canada within a span of 118 days.
Globally, there are too many refugees for any single country to accommodate. However, Canada, a safe and principled democracy, must lead by example.
Resettling Uyghur refugees is not just a countermeasure to the Chinese government’s program to detain and deport. Canadian resettlement also may make intermediate states more hospitable toward Uyghur refugees. Intermediate states often engage in deterrence, making life miserable for refugees in order to discourage their arrivals. This is logically less likely if intermediate states know there is a reasonable prospect of resettling refugees within third countries like Canada.
Canada can and should do for Uyghurs – a people facing genocide – as much as we have done for Syrians and Ukrainians.
On Wednesday this week Parliament will debate M-62, a motion by MP Sameer Zuberi to expedite the entry of 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in need of protection.
It is important that this motion passes, and its implementation expedited. The risk to Uyghurs is only increasing. Not only are we dealing with refugees, we are dealing with a people undergoing an active genocide. As MP Zuberi articulates, these are victims without a safe haven.
Resettling these families to safety is something tangible that Canada can do — and should do — right now.
Sarah Teich is an international human rights lawyer, Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and legal advisor to Canadian Security Research Group and Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg and a legal advisor to Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project.