May 03, 2016

High-Profile Conference in Berlin Raises Awareness of the Rights of Uyghur Refugees and Asylum Seekers

On 26 April 2016, the conference “The Rights of Uyghur Refugees: Past & Present Challenges” was successfully concluded in Berlin. The event, jointly organized  by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, the World Uyghur Congress and the Society for Threatened Peoples, with the financial support of the National Endowment for Democracy, focused on the plight of Uyghurs who fled and are continuing to flee China. The event attracted a great number of academics, experts, activists and members of civil society to discuss the issue and its underlying causes.

The first day started with inspiring opening remarks of some personalities such as Ms Rebiya Kadeer, leader of Uyghurs and considered a mother of the movement, who called for a stronger advocacy work of the diaspora as fundamental step to raise awareness of their situation. The floor was then given to Mr Peter Irwin, Mr Omer Kanat and Mr Heryk Szadziewski, who provided  the audience with a panning shot on the newly WUC’s report based on extensive and exceptionally valuable interviews with Uyghur refugees that will be published in May 2016, along with a formal conference resolution.

Ms Marie Holzman, President of Solidaritè Chine, opened the first panel stating that “nowadays, the Uyghur community in France is more scared about Chinese repercussion”, tracking down the cause why democratic countries fail to react as being due to Chinese pressure. The sinologist also highlighted how Xi Jinping dismantled the counter-revolution impetus, disclosing himself as the owner of the party and not as a leader, giving space, for the first time in the last decades, to criticisms from other members. Mr Albrecht Goering, in turn, gave his contribution as an asylum seeker and as a refugee’s lawyer who succeeded in ensuring citizenship to 80% of the Uyghurs who applied for it in Germany. The panel was closed by Ms Chalida Tajaroeunsuk, who focused her presentation on the tragic situation of the Uyghur migrants in Thailand. Many of them, including children, are jailed in Immigration Detention Centers within which they may not receive any medical care.

The tragic issue of the children human rights violations was further examined in the second panel by Mr Erkin Emet, who spoke about the lifelong psychological repercussion experienced by migrant children in Turkey. Next to take the floor,  Mr Nury Turkel overviewed the prejudices and the discriminations the new Uyghur immigrants are facing in US after 9/11, while Mr Ahmad Ahmed offered a general outlook on the Uyghur diaspora in western countries, especially after the Geneva Convention on Refugees entered into force.

The last day of the conference [26 April 2016] was opened by Ms Louisa Greve, who suggested an action plan aimed to improve the image of the Uyghurs on the media. Her project focuses on the impact particularly in Thailand and Turkey, where the Uyghur diaspora is suffering the lack of international community’s attention despite the principle of non-refoulement. It was drawing attention to this violation (article 33) of the Geneva Convention and its recognition as a norm of customary law that Ms Ilaria Cimino focused her speech, reminding the role of the  UNHCR and EXCOM. Mr Perhat Muhammed concluded by explaining how the non-observance of the article has become a strategic goal of China’s repressive policy.

The topic of the Uyghur identity was explored in the fourth panel by Mr Erkin Ekrem and Mr Mettursun Beydulla, who underlined the deep connection between the Uyghur and the Turkish people as a result of a long term influence. Unfortunately, the repression of the identity in the China is a reality that also applies to the Tibetans, as Mr Kai Mueller, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet, explained.

Coming to an end, Mr Harald Glode and Mr Alym Seyfoff elaborated on the migration’s drama in the US and in the European countries, without neglecting their key role in improving the asylum seekers condition. According to Mr Hanno Schedler, other minorities oppressed by China should combine efforts in order to bring a democratic change in the country.  

The enlightening conference ended with Ms Rebiya Kadeer’s words of warning, stating that the priority should be given to drawing attention of the international media to the policies of Beijing, particularly in regard to the pressure on destination countries to return Uyghur asylum seekers and refugees to China.