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17 Jan 2023

European Court of Human Rights forces Malta to halt Uyghur deportation

On January 16, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered Malta to stop the forcible removal of an Uyghur couple.

The application for urgent interim measures against the EU Member State was filed under Rule 39 with the European Court by Maltese NGO aditus foundation and Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders on January 13, one day following the Maltese Immigration Appeals Board’s final rejection of their appeal for humanitarian protection and their following detention at Safi Barracks pending their “imminent deportation” to the People’s Republic of China.

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.”

The fear and uncertainty the couple has been put through are highly emblematic of the continuous strain felt by those at risk of the PRC’s gross human rights abuse and long-arm policing efforts in a European Union where many Member States remain alarmingly negligent in upholding their international obligations.

aditus foundation stated:

“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.

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.


The Case

The applicants are married Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity and Muslim faith who arrived in Malta in 2016. Following rejection of their application for International Protection in 2017, the applicants spent years living in hiding in Malta and were issued with a return decision and removal order on August 1, 2022. The applicants raised a claim based on the principle of non refoulement before the competent authorities which was rejected on January 12, 2023.

The applicants submitted they are facing a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention if they were returned to China on account of their ethnicity and religion. This risk is further compounded by evidence submitted by applicants of reprisals against their family members in China with regard to their case.

Furthermore, the applicants submitted that Maltese authorities did not provide them with an effective remedy whereby they could raise the complaint under Articles 2 and 3 and that this is a violation of Article 13 of the Convention.

On January 12, 2023, the applicants were informed by the competent authorities that their return was imminent and would be carried out as soon as “a flight is available”  which should happen within “the coming days”. Their mobiles phones were confiscated so they could not place outgoing calls from their place of detention to alert their lawyers at aditus foundation if the forcible removal process would have been initiated.