Fearing repatriation to China and retaliation after visas expire, Uighurs in Malaysia appeal for refugee status

File picture of suspected Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang, rest inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla March 14, 2014. Many Uighur fled China to come to Malaysia to avoid being victims of economic discrimination and religious and cultural repression. — Reuters pic
File picture of suspected Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang, rest inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla March 14, 2014. Many Uighur fled China to come to Malaysia to avoid being victims of economic discrimination and religious and cultural repression. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — Several groups today appealed to the government to grant Uighurs in Malaysia refugee or asylum status to avoid being deported back to China and face political prosecution, as their visas near expiry.

Many Uighur fled China to come to Malaysia to avoid being victims of economic discrimination and religious and cultural repression.

Zuhri Yuhyi, president of Malaysia4Uyghur, an NGO that looks after the community, suggested most had likely arrived here using traveling visas. In a statement appealing for help, Zuhri said the visas will soon expire.

“They fear persecution should they return to China; hence, Malaysia should grant them refugee status,” he said in a statement.

Malaysia4Uyghur is a coalition comprising Islamic NGOs, Christian NGOs, Human Rights Advocacy NGOs that work together to highlight the plight of the Uighurs.

Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its Protocol and does not have an asylum system that regulates the status and rights of refugees, but makes legal exceptions for Muslim communities facing persecution in their home state.

Last year Putrajaya refused Beijing’s requests to extradite ethnic Uighur refugees and said it would allow them safe passage to a third country should they feel their safety is at risk.

South-east Asia has been a preferred transit point to Turkey for ethnic Muslim Uighurs, fleeing what refugees and activists have described as oppression and mass internment by the Chinese government.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations president Azmi Abdul Hamid said Malaysia has no choice but to accept them as refugees.

“They should be given refugee status because Malaysia is part of the Human Rights Commission of Asean, hence beholden to provide protection to asylum seekers” Azmi said.

He proposed that Malaysia let the Uighurs assimilate because of their small numbers.

Azmi suggested many of them have blended in with Malaysian culture.

“They are hardworking and entrepreneurial but their situation is very dire,” he added.

In April 2021, the Turkish court rejected a request by Beijing to extradite Uighur religious teacher Abduqadir Yapchan, accused of terrorist activities.

The number of Uighurs in Malaysia is unknown.

The Uighurs are native to China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang, formerly known as East Turkestan prior to invasion in 1949.

The community said they have been victims of economic discrimination, religious and cultural repression because of their religion.

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