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Two years later, Uighur deportees’ status a mystery

Two years after Cambodia sent 20 Uighurs seeking refugee status back to China against their will, grave concerns about their whereabouts remain, rights groups said this week.

On December 19, 2009, the asylum-seeking Uighurs, which included a woman and two children, were deported without any investigation into their refugee status. Chinese authorities have still not disclosed their whereabouts or legal statuses, according to the World Uighur Forum.

“The past 10 years have proven that Uighurs fleeing suppression and discrimination in East Turkestan are at extreme risk of being deported back to China, where they face enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and execution,” the Forum said in an anniversary statement.

UN High Commission for Refugees Asia spokesperson Kitty McKinsey told the Post that since the highly criticized deportation, the government has handled all asylum applications internally.

“A sub-decree passed the day before the deportation was made public on the same day as the 20 Uighurs were put on a plane to China,” McKinsey said. “The government said they would handle all refugee applications and has ever since.

“There was no pretext that they [the government] had carried through any of the processes to assess refugee status,” she said, adding the office was “frankly outraged” by the deportation.

It was widely reported that China granted Cambodia a US$1.2 billion aid package two days after the deportation.

Since December 2009, there have been no other known cases of asylum seekers in Cambodia being returned to countries against their will, McKinsey said, but could not comment on how many applications there had been, since the assessments are now internal government matters.

Representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry handling refugee applications could not be reached yesterday.

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