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Review of Uighur Asylum Seekers Underway

Cambodia is cooperating with the UN’s refugee agency in Phnom Penh to determine the status of 22 Uighur asylum seekers who fled China, officials said Wednesday.

The Muslim Uighurs, from China’s restive Xinjiang province, the site of violent anti-Chinese protests in July, came into Cambodia last month and are undergoing interviews to determine their status at UNHCR.

China has meanwhile sent a diplomatic note to the government concerning the status of the Uighurs, said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Our Cambodian position is not to do anything yet,” Koy Kuong said. “We are waiting for the results of their interviews, because now they have received ‘persons of concern’ status. With this, they are not yet up to refugee status, so they are still cooperating with Cambodian authorities in interviews to decide who is a real refugee.”

Chinese Embassy officials could not be reached for comment, but in Beijing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the Uighurs in Cambodia are suspected of crimes relating to the deadly unrest in July.

At least nine Uighurs have been executed for their role in the rioting, which left as many as 200 people dead, China’s state media reported in November.

Amnesty International has warned that the Chinese government could pressure the Cambodians to turn the Uighurs over, a claim Koy Kuong said was premature.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to arrive for a two-day trip early next week.

Cambodian officials have said that they will return anyone who does not receive refugee status.

UNHCR’s country director, Toshitsuki Kawauchi, said local authorities have cooperated with the agency. He declined to speak specifically about the Uighurs, but said there was “no information that any asylum seekers or refugees are in danger.”