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Cambodia to expel 20 Uighur asylum seekers

Cambodia decided on Friday to deport Uighur asylum seekers out of its country despite of concerns from human rights groups for their safety if they are sent back to China.

The announcement was made just days before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to arrive in Cambodia for a two-day visit.

The Chinese Muslims from China’s restive Xinjiang province, the site of violent anti-Chinese protests in July, entered Cambodia last month and were given a “people of concern” status by the UN refugee agency before they and were taken to police custody for violating immigration law.

“They are not real refugees,” interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told VOA Khmer by phone late Friday night. “They will have to leave Cambodia in no later than one week.”

Earlier reports said that twenty-two Uighurs, including three children, arrived in Cambodia overland, but in an interview with VOA on Friday spokesman for ministry of foreign affairs, Koy Kuong, said authorities are now taking control of only 20 and have no knowledge of two others.

Human rights groups fear that they will be mistreated if returned to China.

“We are concerned because there were earlier assurances given at the highest level to UNHCR that asylum seekers would be allowed to have their status determined through a fair procedure and that during that period they will be protected, but it seems that now this decision has been rescinded,” Christophe Pescoux, Cambodia’s representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told VOA Khmer by phone late Friday.

Pescoux said the UN is working to persuade Cambodia to “reconsider their decision”.

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