China deports 15 refugees
UN refugee agency thinks forced return is a security sweep ahead of the Olympics8 April 2008
GENEVA - China has deported 15 refugees back to their countries of origin this year in what appears to be a security sweep ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.
The 15 were sent back to Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, despite concerns that they might be persecuted and fear for their lives, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva.
Jennifer Pagonis said the latest forced return was of a 17-year-old boy who was sent back to Pakistan last week.
"We've asked for verification from the Chinese authorities what are the circumstances surrounding the deportation," she said. "We haven't heard back from them on that."
The agency fears the case could violate China's obligations under the global refugee convention, Pagonis said.
"It does seem that this is happening because of the security sweep ahead of the Olympics," she said. "That's fairly clear."
UNHCR is deeply concerned about the recent trend because refugees and asylum seekers need special protection and "these need to be taken into account in any security-roundup," she said.
The recent deportations have caused fear and intimidation among the 180 refugees who live in mainland China, Pagonis said. Nearly all of the refugees in China come from southwest Asia, the Middle East and Africa. They live mostly in Beijing.
China has ratified the 1951 refugee convention, which commits countries to refrain from sending people back to their country if they have credible grounds to fear persecution, torture or other ill-treatment.
"We always have concerns when refugees are sent back to their country of origin. This is basically something that should not happen," Pagonis said.
[AP / Expatica]