US following case of missing refugee wanted by China

BEIJING — The U.S. Embassy in Beijing says it is following the case of a Chinese-born Kazakh man who had been fighting attempts by Beijing to return him to China from neighboring Uzbekistan and whose current whereabouts are unknown.

A spokesman said Monday that the embassy was aware of Halemubieke Xiaheman's situation and was in close touch with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and "relevant governments" on his case.

"We urge third countries to allow UNHCR and other UN organizations and non-governmental organizations access to these asylum seekers to assess their protection claims and provide assistance," the spokesman said in an emailed response to a question from The Associated Press.

Halemubieke had filmed a video from inside the transit zone at the airport in Uzbekistan's capital, pleading for help, saying the Chinese Embassy there wanted him sent back to China. It was distributed Thursday.

In response, the Uzbek foreign ministry issued a statement saying he flew to Bangkok on Saturday.

"We inform that he did not enter the territory of Uzbekistan and on February 9, 2019 flew out to Bangkok," it said.

The statement said Halemubieke had earlier flown from Thailand to Kazakhstan's capital Almaty after transiting in Tashkent, but gave no details.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Halemubieke had arrived in Bangkok. The UNHCR office in Thailand said it was unable to comment due to confidentiality rules.

China has clamped down severely on its Muslim minority groups, especially Kazakhs and their more numerous cousins, the Uighurs, detaining an estimated 1 million of them in re-education camps where they are forced to renounce their native culture and the Islamic religion and pledge loyalty to Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

That followed a deadly riot in 2009 between Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese population in Urumqi, the capital of the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, and sporadic ensuing violence blamed on Islamic separatists in the years after.

On Saturday, Turkey's foreign ministry issued a statement calling China's treatment of Uighurs "a great cause of shame for humanity," in a rare show of public criticism by a majority Muslim nation. Numerous Western nations have called previously on Beijing to close the camps and end persecution of its Muslim minority groups.

China's embassy in Turkey fired back with a statement defending Beijing's actions and accusing Turkey of applying double standards in the fight against terrorism.

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