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Canada votes to take in 10,000 Uyghur refugees amid Chinese pressure to force their return

Move shows ‘what is happening to the Uyghurs is unacceptable’, says MP after non-binding parliamentary ballot with prime minister’s support

Canada’s parliament has unanimously passed a motion to take in 10,000 Uyghur refugees who fled China, but are now facing pressure to return.

The vote on Wednesday builds on a February 2021 move by Canadian lawmakers to label Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in its north-western Xinjiang territory as genocide.

Rights groups believe at least 1 million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in internment camps in the region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Tens of thousands have fled the region, and according to Canadian backbench MP Sameer Zuberi, who sponsored the motion, at least 1,600 have been detained in other countries at China’s behest or forcibly repatriated.

Zuberi noted that prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his cabinet voted in support of the motion, signalling the government’s “intent to make this happen” even though it is non-binding.

“It is a clear signal that we do not accept human rights violations against the Uyghur people,” Zuberi said at a news conference. “What is happening to the Uyghurs is unacceptable.”

Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said it was a message that “will resonate not only in China and in Canada but around the world”.

The motion says Uyghurs who “fled to third countries face pressure and intimidation by the Chinese state to return to China” and accuses Beijing of also applying diplomatic and economic pressure on countries to detain and deport them, “leaving them without a safe haven in the world.”

It proposes resettling 10,000 Uyghurs in Canada over two years, starting in 2024.

China has defended its Uyghur camps in Xinjiang, saying they are crucial to battling terrorism and providing vocational training to minorities.

But the US has said China’s repression of Uyghurs amounts to “genocide”, and the United Nations has condemned China’s persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, said: “The Uyghur people are under attack: our language, culture, religion, history, ethnic identity.”