Malta stopped from deporting Uyghur nationals in last-minute deportation stop

European Court of Human Rights orders Malta not to deport two Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Malta not to forcibly deport two Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity, who are being detained at Safi Barracks.

The two Chinese nationals filed their application to the ECHR on 13 January, with lawyers from Aditus and Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders, after being slated for removal to China.

“This order from the European Court of Human Rights is yet another condemnation of Malta’s asylum procedure. It keeps on failing those who need in most: persons fleeing persecution and atrocious human rights violations,” Aditus said in a reaction to the last-minute interruptation of the deportation.

The applicants are married Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity and Muslim faith, who came to Malta in 2016. Their asylum request was turned down in 2017 but the the couple spent years living in hiding in Malta, before being issued their removal order on 1 August, 2022.

Their claim that returning them to China would breach the international principle of non-refoulement was rejected on 12 January, 2023 before filing an emergency claim to the European Court. They were detained at Safi Barracks, where their mobile phones were confiscated, rendering them unable to call their lawyers had the removal been carried through.

They told the ECHR that if deported, they would face a real risk of being subjected to serious violations of their human rights on account of their ethnicity and religion.

“Our clients also informed the Court that Malta did not provide them with an effective remedy whereby they could raise their human rights complaints, as required by European human rights law,” Aditus said in a statement. “In a mere four pages, the Maltese board blatantly ignored the extensive documentation produced by the applicants in stating that appellants failed to produce further evidence to substantiate the principle of non-refoulement.”

That documentation included clear-cut evidence of transnational persecution of the couple by Chinese authorities, through reprisals against their family members in Xinjiang since 2017, as well as the growing series of reports and decisions by competent national and international authorities, including the hard-fought report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of August  2022 that states: “In light of the overall assessment of the human rights situation in XUAR,” or Xinjiang, “countries hosting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities from XUAR should refrain from forcibly returning them, in any circumstance of real risks of breach of the principle of non-refoulement.”

Aditus said that the fear and uncertainty the couple were put through was highly emblematic of the continuous strain felt by those at risk of the Republic of China’s gross human rights abuse, and the EU’s long-arm policing efforts with member states left to be negligent in upholding international obligations.

“It is high time that Malta reviews its approach to asylum to ensure that it fulfils its core mission of protecting refugees. In the meantime, aditus foundation will continue our hard work to ensure that asylum-seekers are able to effectively present their claims and that refugees enjoy the protection they are entitled to,” Aditus said.