China will deal with 20 ethnic Uighurs who were deported from Cambodia over the weekend as illegal immigrants, praising relations with the Southeast Asian country as a model of good cooperation.
The comments came as a top Chinese official began a visit to Phnom Penh to boost commercial ties.
The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority involved in rioting in western China that killed nearly 200 people in July, were smuggled into Cambodia in recent weeks and applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee agency office in Phnom Penh.
Read also an op-ed by Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer in the Wall Street Journal about the deportation of the Uighurs from Cambodia:
Cambodia’s decision to deport the asylum seekers, who were in the process of applying for refugee status at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is a reminder that Beijing’s oppression of the Uighurs does not stop at China’s borders. The Uighurs are a predominantly Turkic, Muslim people who live in East Turkestan (also knows as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). For decades they have been the victims of systemic human-rights abuses at the hands of the Chinese government.
Fearing further persecution, these 20 Uighurs had fled to Cambodia in November with the assistance of Christian aid groups. The Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry initially declared it would cooperate with the UNHCR regarding the asylum interview process, but, in an about-face with tragic consequences, two days later issued a proclamation of “illegal entry” by the 20 Uighurs. UNHCR officials had yet to finish reviewing their cases when the Uighurs were handcuffed and forcefully taken from UNHCR protection by Cambodian authorities. China’s track record of mistreating repatriated Uighur refugees leads us to fear that they can expect even worse on Chinese soil.