Never Again: The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond Contents

3Diaspora and culture

Box 6: Submission from a Uyghur relative

Unfortunately, my family members were unlawfully arrested for the sole reason that they have family members living abroad.

Source: Confidential

Like all the Uyghurs in the diaspora, I am an indirect victim and a genocide expert. They call us secondary survivors. We have suffered unbearable trauma for nearly four years.

—Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress45

32.The persecution of minority ethnic groups reaches beyond China, to the extent that Uyghurs are harassed, watched, and monitored even in countries where they have claimed asylum or obtained citizenship.46 Uyghurs in the diaspora are often told their families will be detained if they do not return to China or do not cease dissident activities.47 Many Uyghurs who submitted evidence to us spoke of their fear of contacting relatives in case those relatives are punished with internment. Many who have sought asylum also live in fear of their host governments, as evidence of countries deporting Uyghurs back to China, either directly or via third countries, under pressure from the Chinese government is widespread.4849 The deportation of refugees or asylum seekers to countries where they will face persecution—an act known as refoulement—is prohibited under international human rights law.50

Box 7: Uyghur attorney Rayhan Asat on speaking out about her missing brother, Ekpar Asat

It took me four years to speak out, and it comes from a deep sense of fear that my family might face some form of retaliation. So far, I still maintain a deep connection with my family—I mean, I talk to them—but I cannot talk to them about my brother.

Source: Q206 [Rayhan Asat]

33.In oral evidence, the Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams MP, stated the Government’s opposition to forcibly returning people to a country where they may be in danger.51 He also voiced the Government’s support for the Uyghurs more specifically:

We want to send a clear message to the Uyghurs in the UK that we support their situation, their culture, their history and their religion, of course.52

34.This rhetorical commitment to Uyghur culture is welcome but effectively worthless unless matched with action. Uyghurs living in the UK have a legitimate expectation of adequate support when faced with harassment or persecution.53 It is unacceptable that members of Uyghur and Islamic communities in the UK are vulnerable to harassment from the Chinese government. The Government should conduct an urgent consultation with members of these communities in the UK to determine the extent of harassment they are facing and the type of support they require, offering support and protection as appropriate.

35.We welcome the Government’s recent decision to offer specific support to British National (Overseas) families relocating from Hong Kong to the UK.54 The goodwill behind this decision should be extended to all those who flee persecution and oppression in Xinjiang. A commitment to provide asylum for all Uyghurs would be a significant act of support.55 We recommend that the Government implement an asylum fast track for Uyghurs and members of other minority ethnic groups who are fleeing persecution in China.

36.The impact of this action will be amplified significantly if the UK coordinates with international partners to show they will not support the Chinese government’s demands for refoulement.56 The UK should form a coalition of ‘sanctuary states’ that will publicly recommit to the principle of non-refoulement. Doing so will signal to members of persecuted minority groups such as the Uyghurs that they will be safe in these countries, and it will apply further diplomatic and reputational pressure on those states guilty of deporting Uyghurs to China.

37.States that deport people back to face persecution in China must also be held accountable for their actions. Under Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), states must not forcibly return individuals to a country where they would be at risk of torture.57 Uyghurs who are deported to Xinjiang almost certainly face such treatment, and those who conduct such deportations should be held accountable.58 Indeed, the Foreign Secretary has expressed the view that the crimes in Xinjiang “at their worst … amount to torture”.59 We recommend that, where there is credible evidence of a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture deporting Uyghurs and members of other persecuted minority groups to China, the UK should raise a complaint against that state to the Committee against Torture.

38.It is important that efforts to support members of the Uyghur diaspora are matched by work to support the continued survival of Uyghur culture. The Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang represent a concerted effort to systematically target Uyghur and Islamic heritage and cultural practices in the region. Multilateral bodies such as UNESCO are failing to intervene in any meaningful way. In the absence of action from UNESCO, there is an opportunity for the UK to play a leading role in supporting the preservation of Uyghur culture. The British Council should prioritise cultural protection funding for the preservation and promotion of Uyghur tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The BBC World Service should broadcast in Uyghur in areas where substantial Uyghur communities live.

45 Q0 [Dolkun Isa]

46 Q206 [Rushan Abbas]

47 Uyghur Human Rights Project (XIN0071) p 10

48 Q199 [Rayhan Asat]

50 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, The principle of non-refoulement under international human rights law, accessed 16 June 2021

51 Q303 [Nigel Adams MP]

52 Q302 [Nigel Adams MP]

53 The Muslim Council of Britain (XIN0073) para 6

54, National Welcome for Hong Kong arrivals, accessed 2 June 2021

55 Q198 [Peter Irwin]

56 Uyghur Human Rights Project (XIN0071) p 5

58 Q199 [Rayhan Asat]

59 HC Deb, 12 January 2021, col 160, [Commons Chamber]

Published: 8 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement