Lawmakers Urge Trump Administration to Expedite Visas, Refugee Status For Uyghurs

The below article was published by Radio Free Asia, photo credit: AFP

Dozens of lawmakers called on the Trump administration Monday to expedite the visa applications, grant refugee status, and ensure the protection of Uyghurs already in the U.S., noting that the ethnic group faces “heightened risk from persecution” by the Chinese government.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism Chairman Ted Deutch and Ranking Member Joe Wilson led a group of 31 Members of Congress in urging U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to speed up visa applications and consideration of Priority One (P-1) refugee referrals, raise overall refugee limits, and provide protection for U.S.-based Uyghurs.

At the hand of the Chinese government, the Uyghur population is “at risk of coercive population 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,” the bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in a letter.

The secretaries should “consider the lessons of history when U.S. 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 northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

Beginning in October 2018, Beijing acknowledged the existence of the camps, but described them as voluntary “vocational centers,” despite reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service which has found that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Urged to expedite

Monday’s letter noted that the Chinese government is accused of torturing Uyghurs, implementing forced sterilization and forced abortions by Uyghur women, and destroying the culture of the Uyghurs, including by demolishing mosques and compelling denunciations of Islam.

Additionally, it said, the Chinese government has confiscated the passports of most Uyghurs, making it extremely difficult for them to leave China. Beijing also uses extensive surveillance technology to track Uyghurs in China and reportedly to harass and intimidate Uyghurs living outside of the country, it added.

With a backlog of around 3.6 million visa applicants waiting to enter the U.S. and wait times for certain visas at between five and 18 years, and in light of the ongoing state persecution of Uyghurs, the lawmakers urged the secretaries to “consider expedited consideration of applications for both family, educational, and employment-based visas” for members of the ethnic group deemed at-risk.

“We also ask you to consider aggressive use of P-1 status to prioritize refugee referrals for Uyghurs, while encouraging efforts to raise the presidential determination for refugee admittance,” they said.

Under P-1, American diplomats can identify those in need and directly recommend them to U.S. refugee authorities without a referral from the United Nations. Such referrals would benefit Uyghurs located in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Turkey who face a heightened risk of Chinese persecution, the lawmakers said.

Lastly, the letter called on the two secretaries to assist Uyghurs already in the U.S. through both Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) and humanitarian parole to ensure they remain in the country and safe from China.

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

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