Ten years ago, activist Baolige Wurina escaped to Sweden from Inner Mongolia, where the authorities had been persecuting him for his activism on rights issues for ethnic Mongols in the region. In Sweden he married his wife Uurtsaikh Batjargal, who is from Mongolia. Their two kids – 1.5 and 3 years old – are now in Swedish kindergarten and Baolige himself is working as a chef.
But now then family risk being parted, with Baolige himself also risking torture and prison. This due to the Swedish Migration Court’s decision in late November, to turn down his appeal for a review of the Migration Board’s decision from January 2019 not to grant him a new residence permit.
That means the decision to expel Baolige from Sweden, taken by the Migration Board almost two years ago, stands. The only option left for the family is now to take the case to the Migration Court of Appeal – the third, highest and last instance to decide on asylum cases in Sweden.
Since an appeal have to be made within three weeks after the Migration Court’s decision, the family is planning to do so at the Migration Court of Appeal on December 17.
The possibility that the Migration Court of Appeal would change last month’s decision and allow the case of Baolige’s residence permit status to be tried again is, however, slim at best. Hence, his legal right to stay in Sweden might have been exhausted already within a couple of weeks. If that is the outcome, Baolige should according to Swedish law return to China, which in turn means he would most likely not see his family again for a very long time to come.
The Migration Court made last month’s decision despite the deteriorating situation for ethnic minorities in Inner Mongolia as of late. A development that was on display in the shape of large protests during late summer this year, after the authorities suddenly announced changes in the curriculum with the purpose of decreasing or eradicating teaching in Mongolian language from schools in the region.
In early September I wrote about those protests in detail here at InBeijing. In the following weeks, at least 130 ethnic Mongolians was arrested in Inner Mongolia according to Nikkei Asian Review, who also reported that some 5,000 individuals had been taken into some kind of police custody since the protests started.
Since then, local media has reported that a reward and penalty system has been imposed to pressure schools and parents alike. A campaign seems to have been launched to destroy monuments of Genghis Khan and other cultural artefacts related to Mongolian culture and identity.
Indeed, a wider campaign is taking place in all of Inner Mongolia att his very moment. South China Morning Post in September wrote the following on the Chinese authorities’ response to the Mongolian language protests:
A notice issued by the discipline inspection commission of East Ujimqin Banner, or Dongwu banner in Chinese, ordered local cadres to step up surveillance of the population. It said party officials should monitor the local cadres and the public to identify any “radical moves and speeches” and report to their superiors to defuse social conflicts at an early stage.
The cadres were also ordered to take the lead to send their children to school.
State Councillor and Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi conducted an inspection tour of Inner Mongolia and neighbouring Ningxia from Saturday to Wednesday.
Zhao ordered police from both ethnic minority regions to intensify crackdowns on foreign infiltration and “splittist” plots.
“[The police] should severely clamp down on domestic and foreign forces that carry out infiltration and sabotage, and it should go deeper in promoting the fight against separatism,” he said.
Several researchers has pointed out that the rhetoric on and actions in Inner Mongolia, gives a hint that the region’s ethnic minorities is next in line for a treatment similar to that of Xinjiang and Tibet, where the rights and way of life of minorities has been suppressed mercilessly suppressed in the past few years.
Those are worrying signs for Baolige Wurina, who has been participating in several rallies in Sweden in order to draw attention to the treatment of ethnic minorities in China. That he is already on the radar of the Chinese authorities, is confirmed by the fact that police have been visiting his family members in Inner Mongolia, threatening his mother with consequences if their son continue to carry out any kind of activism abroad.
His wife Uurtsaikh Batjargal told me about those visits when we talked to each other over the phone earlier this week. She also said that they provided the Migration Court with audio files confirming the visits by the police, together with other material depicting the worsening situation for ethnic Mongols in China in general.
Despite this, says Uurtsaikh, it only took about a week for the Migration Court to turn down the appeal and deny the inhibition of the decision to expel Baolige from Sweden. According to Uurtsaikh, their lawyers where just as surprised over the short time frame as the decision itself, as they were ”convinced” that her husband would earn a legal review of his residence permit and legal rights to stay in Sweden.
The verdict from the Migration Court – which can be read below or as a PDF via Scribd – states that the court has been reviewing the new material, but nonetheless doesn’t judge the threat scenario as being severe enough:
The Migration Court is acknowledging that Baolige have participated in demonstrations against the Chinese regime on Swedish soil in August, September and October. At the same time, the court deems the stated reasons for protection in the case of Baolige as ”not enough to consider him in need of protection”.
The court is pointing to the fact that the Migration Board already did an assessment of the matter in January 2019. Back then, the Migration Board argued that the family could be reunited in China or Mongolia, stating among other things that the countries are sharing borders.
Alas, the Migration Court ”agrees” with the assessment from 2019 – made before Inner Mongolia was rocked by the protests and arrests this fall – and consider the new evidence in the appeal as ”not being enough to deem that there is a concrete and severe threat scenarion against him from the authorities in his home country”.
Hence, the Migration Court concludes, the conditions for a new review of Baolige’s residence permit are not met.
Since the family handed in its appeal to the Migration Court in November, both the Swedish national radio and the Swedish public broadcaster published texts, TV and radio interviews with Baolige Wurina commenting on the situation in Inner Mongolia. Reports that of course increases the risk of him being persecuted by the Chinese authorities.
According to Uurtsaikh, it’s very obvious that the authorities are already keeping track on her husband. His family back in Inner Mongolia have received visits from the police on several occasions; visits that will often coincide with rallies or other activities likely to upset the authorities.
The last time Baolige’s mother were visited by the police, his wife had just launched a petition against the decision to expel her husband, which attracted som 12,000 signatories in just five days.
In was after the petition started to pick up support that the police called upon Baolige’s mother to contact her son at once, adding that the family would ”experience problems” if those activities didn’t stop immediately.
The scare tactics are partly successful. Uurtsaikh says that her mother-in-law is extremely worried, which made Baolige temporary stop carrying out any kind of activism or even let himself be interviewed in the media. Her husband is thereby ”squeezed in the middle”; out of fear for repercussions against his family, he can no longer highlight the circumstances of his own situation in a way that would likely improve his chances of staying in Sweden.
So what is next in the case of Baolige? His family will hand in the appeal to the Migration Court of Appeal on December 17. It is not known exactly how long time it will take for the court to come to a decision, but for the Migration Court it took only about a week to do so in the same case in November.
If the Migration Court of Appeal also denies Baolige a review of his legal residence status, the case is supposed to be handed over to the police. He would then also lose his job as a chef, and should according to the law be taken into custody and expelled if being found hiding in Sweden.
Uurtsaikh arrived to Sweden one year later than Baolige, and is yet to receive a working permit. Her husband is the sole breadwinner of the family, who also refuses to receive some of the welfare money they are entitled to. Without the income of her husband, it would soon be problematic to pay rent as well as keeping the two children in preschool.
The situation is certainly not being made any easier by the fact that the family now also have to pay their own legal fees, which according to Uurtsaikh is ”not cheap at all”. This is due to the decision by the Migration Court in November, which also denied the family public legal assistance.
Uurtsaikh keeps on carrying out activism and spreading information on her husband’s case, while he himself is avoiding activism or even media interviews out of fear for consequences for his family in China. The photo is from a rally in Stockholm earlier this year.
The case of Baolige Wurina is in many ways similar to that of a Uyghur family who was almost deported from Sweden to Xinjiang two years ago. The father in the family was wanted in China, but the Migration Board was initially neither believing his own story nor that the situation for ethnic minorities in Xinjiang was so serious that the family was in risk of persecution would they have to return.
One of the reasons for this is that the Migration Board makes its decision on political asylums with the help of LIFOS, an internal database with information on the political situation in different countries and parts of the world. It was obvious that LIFOS in the summer of 2018 was not up to date with the current state of affairs in Xinjiang.
After the case with the Xinjiang family gained some international attention – partly because of a couple of texts published here at InBeijing – the Migration Board launched a process to update LIFOS about China. This was partly done by their staff members carrying out a range of interviews with people monitoring the situation in Xinjiang, including with me i Sweden in the fall of 2018.
As LIFOS was being updated, the Migration Board temporary halted all deportations of Uyghurs to China. Once the update was complete, all Uyghurs from Xinjiang was guaranteed political asylum in Sweden.
Due to the fact that a vast majority of all political refugees to Sweden are from countries in Africa and the Middle East, LIFOS is update more regularly and carefully regarding the political situations in those parts of the world.
Regions like Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia is often somewhat sidelined, for the simple reason that the Migration Board doesn’t have to decide on a lot of asylum applications from Chinese citizens. Indeed, Uurtsaikh said on the phone that there is only some 20 individuals in all of Sweden with origins from Inner Mongolia.
It’s highly likely that the decision to deport Baolige was made by using a database that is not up to date with the recent developments in Inner Mongolia or, for that matter, in China at large. But even if LIFOS was not up to date, there are recent sentences even in the Swedish Supreme Court whose readings would be enough to grant Baolige to stay in Sweden.
In the summer of 2019, the Swedish Supreme Court ruled that the Chinese fugitive Qian Jianjun should not be deported to China. The decision – summarised in English by Safeguard Defenders – is motivated by the assessment than any individual involved in ”oppositional activities” runs a risk to be persecuted on political grounds in China.
As the Swedish Supreme Court is underlining the risk for persecution of the political opposition in China, one can only hope that the Migration Court of Appeal later this month concludes that this risk also applies to ethnic minority activists like Baolige Wurina.
Would the court instead uphold the decision to deport him, Swedish authorities would instead de facto assist the Chinese regime to hunt down and surpress activists of Mongolian descent, especially since Uurtsaikh emphasises that such a sentence would also be discouraging for other Mongolian activists outside of China.