Canadian lawmakers pass motion to accept 10,000 Uyghur refugees

The government must devise a plan to resettle them beginning in 2024.
By Roseanne Gerin
2023.02.01
Canadian lawmakers pass motion to accept 10,000 Uyghur refugees Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (3rd from L) poses with World Uyghur Congress Executive Committee chair Omer Kanat (L), president Dolkun Isa (2nd from L), and Immigration Committee chair Mehmet Tohti (R) following the vote on the motion by the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Feb. 1, 2023.
World Uyghur Congtress

UPDATED at 9:27 A.M. EST on 02-02-2023

Canada’s parliament on Wednesday unanimously passed a motion to resettle 10,000 Uyghur refugees to Canada in response to the Chinese government’s efforts to forcibly return members of the mostly Muslim group back to China, where they are at risk of persecution. 

The nonbinding motion calls on the Canadian government to develop a plan within four months to resettle 10,000 Uyghurs in the country over two years beginning in 2024, with a focus on Uyghurs from other countries rather than directly from China.

Liberal lawmaker Sameer Zuberi, who proposed the motion in June 2022, said there is no safe way to take in Uyghurs directly from China, The Canadian Press, the country’s national news agency, reported.

Tens of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities from China’s far-western Xinjiang region who have sought refuge in Turkey and Central Asia are at risk of being sent back to China, rights groups say.

The motion, which passed in a 322-0 vote, received strong support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party and Canadian opposition parties.

The World Uyghur Congress based in Germany welcomed the measure. 

“This motion sets a very important example of how states can respond to the Uyghur genocide and concretely support Uyghur refugees at risk in third countries,” the organization’s president, Dolkun Isa, said in a statement. 

Some countries – including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – have extradition agreements with the Chinese Communist Party and have handed over scores of Uyghurs to China. 

On Thursday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said people in Xinjiang enjoy security, stability and sound development.

"People there live a peaceful and happy life and their human rights, regardless of their ethnic background, have received better protection," she said at a regular press conference. "We urge Canada to respect these facts, stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives, spreading disinformation and misleading the public."

The introduction of the motion in June 2022 was preceded by the Canadian Parliament’s recognition of the mistreatment of the Uyghurs as a genocide in February 2021. 

At that time, lawmakers on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended that the government use existing refugee programs and create an exception to expedite the entry of Uyghur and other Turkic refugees into Canada.

A 2021 report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project and Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, said there had been nearly 1,550 cases of detention and deportation of Uyghurs across 28 countries between 1997 and 2021, with a dramatic escalation since 2017. 

That year, Chinese authorities began detaining Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a vast network of internment camps under the guise of providing vocational training to combat  what they say is the threat of religious extremism and terrorism.

Reports by rights groups and independent media, including Radio Free Asia, provide ample evidence of serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including torture, forced abortions and sterilizations of Muslim women, and forced labor.

Besides the Canadian Parliament, the legislatures of eight other Western countries and the U.S. government deemed that the rights violations amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity.

In August 2022, the U.N. Human Rights Office said China is committing rights violations against Uyghurs, including the forcible return of some who had fled to other nations, and that its actions may constitute crimes against humanity.

Beijing has angrily denied all allegations that authorities have mistreated the Uyghurs.

Edited by Joshua Lipes.

The story was updated to include a comment from China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.

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