Uyghurs Missing in Vietnam

Two ethnic Uyghurs are unaccounted for after fleeing China through Vietnam.

demonstrators-july5-305.jpg Demonstrators march in Urumqi, July 5, 2009.
Sent by a witness.

PHNOM PENH—Ethnic minority Uyghurs from northwestern China, seeking asylum in Cambodia, say two would-be refugees in their group remain missing since they were detained by Vietnamese border authorities in early October.

Twenty-two Uyghurs managed to cross in smaller groups from Vietnam into Cambodia, where the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates an office, and where they are now seeking political asylum and resettlement in a third country.

But two men in one of those groups were forced to remain in Vietnam because their group of five could afford help in crossing the border for only three people, one of the asylum-seekers in Cambodia said.

“Five of us traveled as a group at the same time from China. We had a very small amount of money when we arrived in Vietnam—only enough for three of us to pay smugglers,” one of them said in an interview.

They cast lots with numbers from one to five, he said, with the understanding that numbers four and five would have to stay behind.

“They had no choice but to be left behind and face a more dangerous fate,” one of the Uyghurs said.

Wrong turn

In an interview Oct. 6, one of the left-behind Uyghurs—a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group living mostly in northwestern China—said the two of them had headed on their own toward what they thought was Cambodia, and ended up at the Vietnam-Lao border instead.

“Our goal was to cross the border to get to Cambodia, but we went the wrong way to Laos by mistake,” one of them said.

Uyghurs interviewed for this report all asked that the names of the asylum-seekers involved not be used.

“We have been here almost 24 hours—we don’t know what they think of us because of the language barrier,” he said at the time.

“We tried to explain with the few English words we know that we are not Chinese, we are Turkish. We are not sure if they understand.”

A day later, on Oct. 7, one of the detained men said both had tried to escape but only one of them succeeded.

“The officers caught me about a half-mile away,” he said.

Other Uyghurs, now in Cambodia, said the second man had fled into the forest.

Both men have been unreachable since then, they said.

Higher orders

Ilshat Hassan, vice president of the Uyghur American Association, said he had spoken with the police and quoted them as saying, “They are holding Chinese passports, but they don’t speak Chinese and don’t look Chinese.”

The officer also reportedly said border guards were awaiting instructions on how to handle the men.

The 22 Uyghurs in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, include two children and are currently in the care of international Catholic organization Jesuit Refugee Service, which declined to comment.

The Uyghurs say they fear being returned to China, which has close ties with Cambodia, Uyghur sources said. They notably fear detention for allegedly taking part in deadly ethnic riots in July in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Uyghur sources in Asia say.

UNHCR and Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the case, although it has been learned that the UNHCR has met with the Uyghurs several times in small groups.

Tighter border

China has meanwhile tightened its southeastern border, Uyghur sources say, and has detained 31 Uyghurs since Sept. 15 in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou and in the central city of Kunming, either for trying to flee the country or for allegedly aiding others in fleeing China.

Clashes first erupted between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghurs in Urumqi on July 5, and at least 200 people were killed, by the Chinese government’s tally. Twelve people have since been sentenced to death in connection with the violence.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it has documented the disappearances of 43 men and boys in the Xinjiang region, but that the actual number of disappearances is likely far higher.

Police have meanwhile detained more than 700 people in connection with the unrest, according to earlier state news reports.

Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression by Chinese authorities, and tensions have simmered in the Xinjiang region for years.

Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service with additional reporting by RFA's Khmer service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Dec 11, 2009 01:56 PM

The communist groups still prevail, innocent people will endure suffering long ever. Please the world community, European Unions, all donor counttries help these people and the armless, owner of southern Vietnamese land, Khmer Kampuchea Krom, at the moment, they are facing prosecution, eviction, violence by the Ha Noi expansionism in An Giang province, Vietnamese occupied their ancestors' soil right now further trying to remove them from even their own house by killing Khmer Krom people in justified way. Please join to condemn this animal action of Vietnames communist.

Dec 10, 2009 01:00 PM

Miserably for those under oppression of inhumane Communists of China, Laos and Vietnam. Those beast minds but human body will know no what Humanitarian is. So be careful to deal with them. Their party members or groups are all rich but the people in their country too poor to live on. Down with rude communists, Long live justice.

Dec 11, 2009 10:51 AM

Where there is an oppression that place would occur the resistance. The century now is human rights time and democracy, the time to take care of people. Violation from authority to simple people is an coward activites and very supid resolution. China is the world largest country, but the most violation against human right in the world.

Dec 10, 2009 02:05 PM

China is the number one ennemy of muslim world now. Wacht out Muslim!

Dec 25, 2009 07:19 AM

Tran Hu,
1. The American body bag policy toward Vietnam
2. American shot to kill any one moves in Vietnam
3. The Orange Agent to the forest of Vietnam and existence problems
4. The bombing on North Vietnam called the thunder stones.
5. 30 years of economic sanctions on Vietnam
These are more evil than Communist!

Dec 11, 2009 01:24 PM

The person who has been ambitious is china,like op0pression on the others, this may be get the idea from Mao tse dung, the person who get this ideology is Youn and the regime of Hun Sun, like to fight against human rights. veasna khmer euy

Dec 10, 2009 12:20 PM

Pay attention to all Muslim world, now who is ennemy of muslim? Is it America or China? Look it carefully, mostly American organization are helping muslim around the world. Muslim people, did you ever see Chinese organization or Chinese gouverment help a single muslim?

Dec 12, 2009 12:33 AM

The communists of China, Vietnam, and North Korea will collapse soon by the power of their own people democracy. Chinese and Vietnamese communists are the murderer, plunderer, and ignorant in the world. They will do everything to satisfy their own craving by sucking people blood as corruption to fulfil their teams. Down, down with these regimes.