The UN refugee agency yesterday sought access to five ethnic Uighurs arrested in Malaysia as rights activists criticized Kuala Lumpur for deporting 11 others to China.
Malaysian authorities said all 16 were detained this month on suspicion of human trafficking.
Muslim minority Uighurs repatriated to China from elsewhere in the past have expressed fears of long jail terms or the death penalty.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kuala Lumpur yesterday voiced regret that Malaysia deported 11 last week without allowing them access to UN officials.
UNHCR was seeking access to the remaining five in detention “to assess their conditions and to finalize our review of their claims for asylum,” Kuala Lumpur-based UNHCR official Yante Ismail said.
“We had expressed our opinion to the government of Malaysia that, if indeed they had committed criminal offenses, they undergo fair legal process in Malaysia and not be deported to a country where their lives or freedom may be at risk,” she said.
Representatives for Malaysia’s Home Ministry, which handles police and security issues, said they could not immediately comment on the Uighurs.
Malaysian Deputy National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar said last week the action against the Uighurs was part of “stern measures that must be taken to send a message to human trafficking syndicates.”
The suspects had smuggled other Chinese nationals into Malaysia through Thailand and provided them with forged immigration documents to travel to other countries, Khalid said.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the deportation of the 11 was “the latest in a coordinated campaign by the Chinese government against the Uighurs, who in the past month have been bundled off to China by officials in Thailand, Pakistan and now Malaysia.”
“The Malaysian police accused these Uighurs of being people smugglers or traffickers, but then threw legal due process out the window” by deporting them instead of charging them under Malaysian law, Robertson said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch added that the Chinese government should account for what has happened to the 11 who have been deported.
China has said that some Uighurs are terrorists or criminals who pose a threat to the region’s safety and Beijing has previously insisted that Uighur refugees be extradited back.