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Expedite US visas for Uyghurs lawmakers urge

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

Chinese persecution of Uyghurs and other minority groups continues.  The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), together with 68 Uyghur organizations lobbies UN Member States to vote against China’s renewed membership on the Human Rights Council.  This is inappropriate in view of ongoing human rights abuses against Uyghurs.

Lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to expedite US visa applications and grant refugee status to secure the protection of Uyghurs living in the States. Lawmakers claim that the minority ethnic group faces an ‘increased risk of persecution’ from the Chinese government, particularly amid an ongoing spat between Washington and Beijing.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for the Middle East and North Africa, Ted Deutch, along with Ranking Member Joe Wilson, led a group of 31 members of Congress in urging US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Acting US Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, to speed up US visa and refugee applications.

The pair have called on Pompeo and Wolf to ‘speed up visa applications and consideration of Priority One (P1) refugee referrals, raise overall refugee limits, and provide protection for US-based Uyghurs.

Chinese government persecution of Uyghurs

According to Deutch and Wilson, the Uyghur population is subject to coercive control, forced labor, arbitrary detention in internment camps, torture, physical and sexual abuse, mass surveillance, family separation, and repression of cultural and religious expression around the world, under the Chinese government.

In a letter to Pompeo and Wolf, bipartisan lawmakers wrote: “Consider the lessons of history when US policymakers failed to do everything in their power to assist refugees and those facing persecution, state oppression, and concentration camps during the Second World War.”

Authorities in China’s northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have long been accused of holding nearly two million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

At the start of 2018, Beijing acknowledged that the camps did exist, but described them as ‘voluntary vocational centers’, despite evidence presented by the RFA’s Uyghur Service, which found that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions where they’re reportedly forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Calls to expedite US visas for Uyghurs

The letter further accuses the Chinese government of targeting Uyghurs for torture, forced sterilization and forced abortions, while wiping out the culture of the minority group by destroying mosques and forcing the renouncing of Islam.

The Chinese government is also understood to have confiscated passports of most Uyghurs, making it almost impossible to leave China, while Uyghurs are also subjected to constant surveillance designed to harass and intimidate Uyghurs living outside China.

US visa backlog

According to recent data, approximately 3.6 million people are waiting for a US visa. Under certain categories, wait times can be anywhere between five and 18 years. With Uyghurs facing extreme persecution, lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to ‘consider expediting applications for family, educational and employment-based visas.’

In the letter sent by bipartisan lawmakers, they said: “We also ask you to consider aggressive use of P1 status to prioritize refugee referrals for Uyghurs, while encouraging efforts to raise the presidential determination for refugee admittance.”

Under P1 rules, US diplomats can identify those directly in need and recommend them to US refugee authorities without a referral from the United Nations. Such referrals would benefit Uyghurs based in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Turkey, where the risk of Chinese government persecution is high.

Protect Uyghurs from China 

The letter further called on the government to protect Uyghurs already based in the US through the Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) program and humanitarian parole to ensure they remain in the country and safe from China.

The letter said: “Implementing greater protections for Uyghurs would represent a continuation of the best traditions of US foreign policy and humanitarianism and uphold America’s image as a beacon of refuge, hope, and liberty to millions worldwide.”

Toward the end of July, the Trump administration imposed sanctions against the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC) and two of its current and former officials over rights violations in the XUAR.

Several top Chinese officials were also hit with sanctions including regional party secretary, Chen Quanguo – representing the first time that Washington had targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.

There have also been a number of public discussions involving Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as to whether the situation in XUAR can be considered genocide.

Nury Turkel, a commissioner on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent US federal government body, said: “Should the secretaries act on the request of lawmakers, it would open a new pathway for Uyghur asylum seekers in the US who have been waiting since 2015.” can help with US employment-based visas

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