Authorities in Sweden have deported two Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs to China after their request for political asylum was refused, sparking fears among other Uyghur asylum-seekers that they will also be sent home where they may be persecuted.
Munich-based World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilshat Raxit identified them as Adile Omer, a 25-year-old woman, and Faruh Dilshat, a 23-year-old man.
“I don’t know what caused them to flee their homeland, but I know that
they had participated in demonstrations held by the Swedish Uyghur
community in front of the Chinese embassy in Stockholm. This is enough
fodder for the Chinese authorities to punish them severely," Raxit
He said Omer was deported on Monday while Dilshat was sent back last month.
A fellow Uyghur asylum-seeker identified only as Malik confirmed that Omer was forcibly repatriated after being held in an immigration detention center in Stockholm since Dec. 23.
Omer had highlighted her plight to Raxit from a plane before it took off from Stockholm Arlanda airport to Beijing.
“I'm so scared. I don’t know what will happen to me and my family when I head to Beijing,” Raxit quoted her as saying.
“She was crying and begging to me to do something immediately to prevent her deportation,” he told RFA. “Maybe, she had used a police phone as they took her to the plane forcibly.”
Uyghurs, who form a distinct, Turkic-speaking minority in China's western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, say they are subjected to political control and persecution for opposing Chinese rule in their homeland, as well as being denied economic opportunities stemming from Beijing's rapid development of the troubled northwestern region.
Malik said the deportation of Adile, who is from Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, occurred after a swift appeal hearing.
"It was very quick."
"They didn't wait for the court appeal process, and before it was approved, they had already sent her home."
Malik claimed Dilshat did not resist the repatriation.
At immediate risk
Malik said a number of Uyghurs who had escaped China and arrived together in Sweden in September were now at immediate risk of deportation, in spite of having begun appeals in Swedish courts.
He said the asylum-seekers had left China because of fears they would be persecuted in the wake of the July 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi, which prompted hundreds of arrests and "disappearances," according to overseas rights groups.
One woman had gone into hiding, moving house every few days for fear of being sent back to China, he said.
Malik called on overseas Uyghur groups to help the asylum-seekers by bringing up their cases with the United Nations.
He said the Swedish immigration authorities had consistently treated them as if they were Han Chinese citizens, and appeared not to understand that they could face retaliation and further persecution if they returned.
Another Uyghur, a 25-year-old man identified as Ilya, said he was currently preparing an appeal to a Swedish court against the decision not to grant him political asylum.
Ilya said he was in the vicinity of People's Square in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi during the ethnic violence which flared for three days beginning on July 5, 2009, leaving at least 197 people dead.
He said that his image had been captured on closed-circuit television, and that he had already spent several months in a police detention center with no legal process, but that the Swedish authorities had refused to believe his case could be linked to the July 5 incident.
"They said, 'If you go back, you won't be in any danger,'" Ilya said. "They said I couldn't provide any evidence to show that I was telling the truth."
"Where am I supposed to get evidence from?," he said. "If I go there, who will give it to me? I was running for my life."
Pressured in Europe
Overseas rights groups said many Uyghurs in European countries are in a similar position, and that there could be a diplomatic reason for the decisions now being taken.
"China is putting unceasing pressure of every kind on EU member states," Raxit said.
"In a situation like this, all Uyghurs who try to escape to Western countries are at risk of being sent back again," he said.
Uyghur organizations were unaware of Faruh Dilshat’s fate three weeks after his repatriation.
Raxit said Uyghurs in Sweden and the Netherlands are particularly at risk.
In a recent interview, Swedish immigration spokeswoman Charlotte Jacobson, said anyone seeking political asylum in Sweden must undergo due process, which includes the right of judicial appeal to two higher levels of court.
Last October, nearly a dozen Uyghurs in the Netherlands were refused political asylum three or more times and were put under intense pressure from Dutch authorities to return to China.
They were among more than 50 Uyghurs from Xinjiang who had applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
Many of those applicants also said they thought the Dutch authorities were unaware of the gravity of the crisis faced by many Uyghurs.
In December 2005, a Uyghur seeking political asylum in Denmark named Burhan Zunun committed suicide after officials pushed him to return to China, highlighting the fear Uyghur refugees face of mistreatment at the hands of Chinese authorities.
Many Uyghurs have been deported in recent years from countries with strong trade and diplomatic ties to China, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Laos.
Chinese authorities, wary of instability and the threat to the Communist Party's grip on power, often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network.
In October, Xinjiang courts sentenced four Uyghurs to death for violence in two Silk Road cities in July which left 32 people dead.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.