Last week, I wrote a text with the headline ”Sweden about to deport a Uyghur family to Xinjiang”, about Abdakir, his pregnant wife and their two children. After having been denied asylum to Sweden, they risk being deported back to China where harsh punishment most certainly awaits, given the current situation for Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.
The text drew a lot of interest from media, civil society, academics and other readers. While happy for the attention brought to Abdakir’s case, I must also express my disappointment on the fact that no English or Chinese language media (bar Turkistan Times) have yet written about the case, despite the fact that a handful of journalists contacted me as well as Abdakir and his lawyer.
My disappointment is first and foremost based on the fact that Abdakir’s past and current lawyer both underscored how international media attention could be helpful in this case, as it will increase the risk for repression would the family to return to Xinjiang, which in turn is likely to affect the asylum application in a positive way.
I write ”past and current lawyer”, because since my last text Abdakir and his family is now represented by a new lawyer. She has filed a request for a new asylum application for the family – and already during next week a vital decision will be taken by the Swedish Migration Board. Let me try to explain..
As I wrote last week, Abdakir spent about a year hiding in Germany, after having been denied asylum by the Swedish Migration Court in April 2017. The reason that the family returned to Sweden in July this year, was simply that they were detected by German authorities who according to the Dublin Regulation sent them back to the EU country were the asylum application was first done.
The rejected asylum claim is still valid, and hence the family are now in theory upholding themselves illegally on Swedish soil. Nevertheless, they have been allowed to stay in a temporary residence administrated by Gävle Municipality, some 170 kilometer of Stockholm.
Why is this? Not being an asylum expert by any means myself, the family’s current lawyer had to explain this legal limbo situation for me several times.
Graphics used in the new extensive report from Human Rights Watch mentioned below. It depicts one of the camps for political reeducation, where Abdakir and his family risk ending up would Swedish authorities deported them to Xinjiang.
In fact, after an asylum application is denied, it is very rare that the deportation is carried out by force. Rather, what usually happens, is that the person(s) being denied a visa is expected to leave on their own, especially since the authorities will stop providing the person housing, food and other benefits enjoyed during the asylum process.
(This is indeed the situation not only in Sweden; Deutsche Welle explains the mechanisms closer in the article ”Why rejected asylum seekers are seldom deported”.)
In the case of Abdakir – his new lawyer explains – it is likely that the family has been allowed to stay in the temporary Gävle Residence out of ”kindness” from someone working within the government. This kindness will not last forever – as I pointed out last time, Abdakir told me his family was going to be kicked out into the streets already this week, would they not provide proof that they have visited the Chinese embassy to start arranging for the trip back to Xinjiang.
Now, the situation has changed. After having been denied asylum by the Swedish Migration Board (2016) and the Swedish Migration Court (2017), Abdakir was recently recommended by another Uyghur to contact the lawyer Marie Källbom-Lindgren. She has worked with similar cases in the past, and on a couple of occasions represented Uyghurs who won the right to asylum in Sweden.
Källbom-Lindgren expressed to me her hopes for a new, successful asylum process for Abdakir, given that the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang have increased remarkably – or at least so the international community’s knowledge of this repression – since the family was rejected asylum last time. But she also points out the fact that this rejection already now is putting the family in immediate danger of deportation.
Källbom-Lindgren yesterday (Thursday) filed a request for a new asylum application and, of most immediate importance, inhibition. The term inhibition means that, if accepted, Abdakir and his family will be allowed to legally stay in temporary residence as the new asylum application is being handled.
Decision about inhibition is expected to be taken next week, and this decision in vital.
Would inhibition be denied, the family will be on Swedish soil illegally and risk not only being forced to live on the streets, but also to be put in custody while awaiting deportation. This is not a common measure, Källbom-Lindgren explains, but could be taken given the fact that the family earlier was hiding in Germany for a year, and hence would naturally be suspected for not planning to leave the country voluntarily this time either.
Also, would the inhibition be denied, the family would lose their legal right to a lawyer, and whoever wanted to continue to drive their case have to be ready to do so pro bono.
The law regarding all this is neither easy, nor does it make much sense. Would the inhibition be denied, the new asylum application would go ahead nevertheless. Källbom-Lindgren can’t really say how long time this new application would take, but on average it demands ”a couple of months”.
During this time, would the inhibition be denied, the family’s only hope is to find a solution to stay in Sweden illegally during the processing time.
To sum up the situation: Most important right now is to convince the Migration Board that the conditions in Xinjiang have changed to the extent that Abdakir and his family would be in danger of persecution if they have to return.
To convince the Migration Board, Källbom-Lindgren have already turned in some documents when applying for inhibition. More documents, testimonies and proofs can and will also be handed over to the Migration Board at a later point during the process. Materials which Källbom-Lindgren is now collecting to build a case for the new asylum application – but the application for inhibition had to be done as fast as possible.
The good news is, since my last text, the Swedish Migration Board have adopted the new report ‘Eradicating Ideological Viruses’: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims that Human Rights Watch published earlier this week, to its database of ”country facts” which is used to determine the security situation in countries and regions throughout the world.
As I mentioned last time, this database have not been updated for a long time concerning the situation in Xinjiang, as there are relatively few refugees applying for asylum in Sweden from China, compared to countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
However, both the current and the past lawyer of Abdakir points out that this report by no means constitutes a guarantee for Uyghurs applying for asylum in Sweden. The devil is in the details. In the of the report, Human Rights Watch is issuing the following ”recommendations” to ”concerned governments”:
Do not forcibly return ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, or other Turkic Muslims to China without providing a full and fair individualized examination of their risk of being persecuted, tortured, or ill-treated in China;
Expedite asylum claims to Turkic Muslims at risk of being forcibly returned to China;
The wording ”individualized examination” and ”expedite” leaves room for interpretation. Indeed, the Migration Board could claim that an individual examination have already been done. There is a history within the Migration Board of not overturning decision already been made, perhaps to uphold the ”honor” of colleagues behind those decisions.
In my last text, the shortened name form ”Abdakir” was used as he hesitated to present his full name. Now, he have decided to use his own name in media interviews, as further attention to his case according to the lawyers could be beneficial for his case, as the risk for repression increases once the identity of Uyghurs speaking to media is exposed.
The risk of Abdakir and his family being deported from Sweden is by no means averted. It could happen already next week, would the application for inhibition be denied and the authorities detain the family while awaiting for the deportation to be prepared.
It could also happen in couple of months, even if the inhibition is accepted, if the asylum application itself gets turned down again.
Marie Källbom-Lindgren have got a proxy from Abdakir to speak to media and civil society about his case. Anyone who would like to get in touch with the new lawyer, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get in touch with Abdakir, please mail me first at email@example.com