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Canadian, UK lawmakers advance measures on China’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang

A Canadian parliamentary committee advanced a motion to offer special immigration procedures now granted to Ukrainian refugees to Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities fleeing persecution in Xinjiang, while lawmakers in the United Kingdom moved to ban medical imports from the region in western China.

Members of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship in Canada’s House of Commons unanimously approved a motion on Thursday that includes the issuance of temporary resident permits and single journey travel documents to people without a passport.

This measure would allow displaced Uyghurs who face risk of detention and deportation back to China to seek refuge in Canada.

Last month Canada said it would introduce new immigration policies, including a Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.

The government is obligated to respond to the committee’s motion within 30 days, in a process that is expected to later involve a debate in the House of Commons and a vote on the motion, said conservative lawmaker Garnett Genuis, a committee member.

Genuis said the motion reaffirms a recognition of the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in China and calls for recognition of the vulnerability of refugees from Xinjiang.

“We’re seeing a situation in which the Chinese Communist Party is trying to extend its influence beyond its borders and threaten the security of Uyghurs who have already sought asylum in other places,” he told RFA. “So, it [the motion] calls on the government of Canada to work to support Uyghur refugees and create pathways that recognizes particular challenges.”

Canada’s Parliament, along with some other Western legislatures, including the one in the U.K., have declared that China’s policies targeting Uyghurs constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. government also has declared likewise.

In March 2021, the Canada, the U.S., U.K. and European Union announced sanctions against Chinese officials and companies over human rights violations in Xinjiang, bringing swift condemnation of their actions by Beijing along with threats of retaliation.

Memet Tohti, executive director of Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project in Canada, said his group lobbied with committee and parliament members to press the demand that Ottawa “treat the Uyghur refugees fleeing the Chinese genocide just like the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.”

Thursday’s passage of the motion with the support four parties means “they now have unanimous consensus in the Parliament on resetting Uyghur refugees in Canada,” he said.

No more blind eyes

This week, lawmakers in the U.K. passed an amendment banning the government from purchasing health goods made in the Xinjiang region where China has been accused of forced-labor abuses.

The Modern Slavery Amendment was incorporated into a larger health bill to prevent the country’s National Health Service from buying products tainted by modern slavery, including anything made with Uyghur forced labor.

A year ago, U.K. lawmakers approved a nonbinding parliamentary motion declaring that crimes against humanity and genocide were being committed against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, who spearheaded the amendment’s passage, said he welcomed the move by government health officials to outlaw the purchase of goods and services that come from companies and countries where there is slave labor.

With the advance of the amendment, “the government has signaled that they will no longer turn a blind eye to forced labor in U.K. supply chains,” he said.

Rahima Mahmut, U.K. director of the World Uyghur Congress, said the Uyghur activist group has campaigned for years for the government to take meaningful action against Beijing’s genocide in Xinjiang.

“This amendment is the most significant piece of U.K. legislation addressing the Uyghur crisis so far,” she told RFA. “Once the bill comes into law, the Chinese government will no longer be rewarded with million-pound contracts for Uyghur slave-made healthcare products, as they have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.