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Campaigners urge Kazakhstan not to expel Chinese asylum seekers

People are protesting against China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 January, 2020

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Human Rights Watch is urging Kazakhstan to keep two Kazakh asylum seekers instead of sending them back to China, over worries that the two men will be detained.

Campaigners have urged Kazakhstan not to return Chinese asylum seekers fleeing Xinjiang amid a crackdown on Uighur Muslims and other minorities. 

Activists called on Kazakh authorities to drop charges against illegal border crossings and to respect refugee rights.

"The government should immediately drop charges of illegal border crossing, halt these proceedings, and guarantee that these men will not be sent back to China as long as their refugee claims are pending," said Laura Mills, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"Kazakhstan can take this opportunity to demonstrate that, unlike in the past, it is a country that upholds its international legal obligations, respects refugee rights, and won’t return people to risk of torture," She added. 

First-hand accounts by Uighur Muslims who had spent time in China camps talk about experiencing torture, such as electrocution and sexual assault, as well as being forced to denounce their faith in prison-like conditions.

Two Kazakh men, Kaster Musakhanuly,31 and Murager Alimuly, 25 were detained in October last year in Almaty, and held in the far eastern part of the country near the border with China.

The two men said they had faced mistreatment, including torture, and arbitrary detention in Xinjiang, which is where China's infamous "education camps" are located.

They fled when they learned that they would be sent to the camps.

Read More: Stop Uighur internment camps or take the Olympics away from China

The Chinese government denies these claims.

Musakhanuly and Alimuly say they still have family in Xinjiang, including some who have been sent to the camps.

The lawyer for the two men, Lazzat Akhat, said they had applied for asylum in Kazakhstan but that the request was pending because of the trial.

In December 2019, Darkhan Dilmanov, Deputy Chief of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, said the two men had "no chances of staying" in the country after the trial, and that "we will transfer them to the People's Republic of China".

International law explicitly prohibits refoulement – the forcible return of a refugee to a place where they will most likely face persecution, or of any person to a country where they would face torture.

Kazakhstan, which shares a border with China, has made contradictory statements concerning Xinjiang, swinging from publicly acknowledging the repression of Muslim minorities, including Kazakhs, to expressing support to China.

This isn't the first time a Chinese national has been met with a frosty Kazakhstan welcome.

A Kazakh woman who was held at an internment camp in China’s Yili Hasake region from July 2017 to October 2018, and in December 2019 claimed she is in imminent danger of being deported to China despite dangers of torture.

She fled to Kazakstan in December 2018 after being forced to labour in a glove factory inside the camp for three months at the end of her detention.

Awulqanqizi last year told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she and other detainees had been forced to eat pork against Muslim tradition and were appointed an hour of "crying time".

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