An MP from Canada’s governing Liberal Party is tabling a parliamentary motion that he hopes will spur Ottawa to take action on Uyghurs persecuted by the Chinese government.
Sameer Zuberi is tabling a motion in the House of Commons Monday calling on the federal government to make room in its refugee intake numbers for 10,000 Uyghurs and members of other Turkic groups who have fled China and are living in third countries.
Parliament is about to rise for the summer but the motion will be debated and voted on this fall. It’s a non-binding motion but Mr. Zuberi says he’s confident he will be able to use the next few months to build support for it to pass and be acted upon.
His resolution takes its cue from Parliament’s 2021 declaration that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs and other minorities and it calls on the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to expedite entry into Canada of “10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in need of protection over two years starting in 2024.”
Mehmet Tohti, a Uyghur-Canadian and executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said there are tens of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities who have fled China for countries in the Middle East and Turkey and are at risk of being sent back. Beijing, seeking to silence critics in these diasporas, is pressing countries to deport them to China.
“For the Chinese government, controlling these populations is vital to protect its image and the diaspora groups are the ones who are most actively exposing Beijing’s violation of human rights,” Mr. Tohti said.
Rights groups and media reports say the Chinese government has committed grave human-rights violations against the Xinjiang region’s largely Muslim Uyghur population, as well as other minorities. Forced labour and forced relocation to work in other provinces, China’s critics say, is the latest stage in a government-directed effort to exert control in Xinjiang, which Beijing has described as being infected with extremism.
Last month, Associated Press reported that nearly one in 25 people in a county in Xinjiang has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known imprisonment rate in the world. The list of those sentenced is by far the biggest to emerge to date with the names of imprisoned Uyghurs, reflecting the sheer size of a Chinese government campaign that swept an estimated million or more people into internment camps and prisons.
It’s been nearly 16 months since the House of Commons adopted a motion declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to represent genocide. The U.S. government and legislative bodies in the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Ireland have made similar determinations.
Canada to date however has done little to act on the motion. Despite changing customs law as of mid-2020 to prohibit imports made with forced labour, Ottawa has failed to intercept a single shipment that it could prove was made under coercion.
It’s not the first time Canada has been urged to open its doors for Uyghur refugees. A Commons subcommittee on human rights, of which Mr. Zuberi was a member, in 2019 published a report that, among other things, called on Canada to create a dedicated refugee stream for Uyghurs and other groups persecuted by China. Such a stream has not been established.
The federal government on Sunday defended its refugee record, which in recent years has included special commitments to accept Afghan refugees and Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s military assault on their country.
Aidan Strickland, press secretary to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, did not directly answer a question asking why Canada has not created a special refugee intake commitment for Uyghurs or other groups persecuted by China.
However she said Canada prioritizes those requiring asylum in terms of vulnerability, not nationality or religion – in keeping with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement handbook.
“At this time, Canada has no special measures for Uyghurs. However, cases requiring urgent attention are identified for priority processing,” Ms. Strickland said.
She said, however, that Canada is always investigating more options for refugee intake. “We will continue to look at more ways that Canada can settle refugees,” she said.
Mr. Tohti said the federal government has been preoccupied with resettling Afghans escaping the Taliban and Ukrainians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s military assault.
With a report from The Associated Press
For subscribers only: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.