As It Happens

Uighur asylum seeker mistakenly deported from Germany has 'disappeared', says lawyer

A man from a persecuted minority group seeking asylum in Germany was unexpectedly deported to China in early April — and no one has heard from him since.

Man from persecuted minority was to meet with immigration officials before being sent to China in April

Uighurs and their supporters rally across the street from United Nations headquarters in New York on March 15, 2018. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

A man seeking asylum in Germany was unexpectedly deported to China four months ago and no one has heard from him since.

The unnamed 22-year-old, who is part of the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority population in China, was scheduled for an interview in early April with Germany's immigration office, but bureaucrats didn't receive the paperwork.

Authorities for the state of Bavaria told German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk on Monday that the deportation was a mistake, reports Deutsche Welle.

Martine Synnott, an immigration lawyer whose office represents the man, told As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway that communication breakdowns are frequent.

The man was claiming asylum in Germany after becoming politically active against the Chinese government. It was his second time applying for asylum in the European country.

"They [deportation authorities] just took him, put him in the plane, and the only information we got was, 'Oh sorry, it's too late. He can't go to the interview anymore because we deported him,'" Synnott said.

'He disappeared completely'

Uighurs are a minority ethnic group in China. Media reports suggest the government has interned tens to hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in "re-education camps."

The camps are intended, in part, to force the Muslim minority to disavow Islamic beliefs.

"Members who are really politically active are always in danger that they are put in prison," she said.

However, she said she has no information that suggests the Uighur man was interned.

A police officer guards a security post leading into a centre locals say is used for political indoctrination in China's Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Muslim Chinese in mass internment camps. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

It's unusual to completely lose communication with a deported asylum seeker, the lawyer said. Normally, she said she'll receive updates from social media or through friends.

"He had acquaintances here, he had friends here, but nobody has any information about him," she said.

"He disappeared completely."

Government backlog

Synnott blames Germany's overburdened asylum and migration department for the error. More than half of the 950,000 asylum seekers in Europe are based in Germany, according to the EU's migration office.

"We had [over] the last two, three years … so many refugees that it's too complicated even for the authorities now to give proper information to the others," she said.

Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region in this Nov. 4, 2017, photo. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Accidental deportations are "more often these days," Synnott said.

But the lawyer said she knows of only one case where a mistakenly deported person was put on a return flight to Germany.

Chinese authorities haven't offered Synnott or her colleague Leo Borgmann any information on the man's whereabouts, she said. 

Borgmann, who oversees the Uighur man's case, has now written to the German government and is appealing to the German Embassy in China to find him.

"That's the only thing we can do," Synnott said. "How can we search for him? China is pretty big isn't it?"

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Imogen Birchard.