NGOs: Thailand may be planning to deport Uyghurs to China

Nontarat Phaicharoen
NGOs: Thailand may be planning to deport Uyghurs to China People believed to be Uyghurs are transported to a detention center in Songkhla town in southern Thailand after visiting women and children at a separate facility, March 26, 2014.

Thailand has moved dozens of Uyghurs from around the kingdom to a single facility in Bangkok, a security official confirmed Wednesday, raising fears among NGOs that the government may deport them to China after three detainees escaped earlier this month.

Thai authorities had moved the Uyghurs to the detention center in Thailand’s capital for their own good, according to Panitan Wattanayagorn, the chief security adviser to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

“I understand it was a relocation for security reasons and to improve their living conditions,” Panitan told BenarNews by phone, but he did not respond to a question about whether the Thai government would send the Uyghurs back to China.

“For a broad overview of solving the troubles, we can say that they escaped death to stay with us. We have to handle them according to international standards and obligations,” he said. 

“We won’t breach their basic rights – that is there is no separation of the families. But the problem is more convoluted than that, and we try to solve it bit by bit.”

BenarNews reached Panitan a day after seven local NGOs and Thailand’s Islamic council issued a joint statement questioning the Muslim Uyghur detainees’ transfer to Bangkok. 

“This action raised concerns among the civil society network monitoring the Uyghur situation that the Thai government will force the Uyghurs to return to their country of origin at the request of the Chinese government,” said the NGOs and the humanitarian council of the Sheikhul Islam Office, the top Islamic authority in majority-Buddhist Thailand. 

The relocation to Bangkok came after three Uyghur men escaped from an immigration detention center in central Thailand on July 11, said Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Thai NGO that assists Uyghur refugees in the country. The trio is believed to be at large. 

“Our sources have told us that Uyghurs were brought from different detention centers across the country and are now all held together at the Suan Plu immigration detention center,” Chalida told BenarNews on Wednesday. “We fear they could be sent back at China’s pressure. So far, they are still here, as far as we know.”

Fifty-two to 56 Uyghurs have been in limbo in Thailand after they allegedly entered the country illicitly while fleeing from northwestern China seven to eight years ago, Chalida said. At least 44 of them are at Suan Plu, but it was not clear what happened to the others. 

Activists said those held in detention centers are in an immigration limbo because China wants them back, while Thai authorities have not yet decided what to do with them.

Meanwhile, a foreign affairs committee of the Thai parliament has summoned the foreign ministry and other related agencies on Aug. 4 to clarify the situation. 

“We also want to have the national human rights commissioners be debriefed on the relocation and allowed to make a visit to them and monitor their health,” Chalida said.

No visits 

She said the NGOs and the human rights officials had not been allowed to visit the Uyghurs despite requests to the government.

Previously, Chalida noted that they were living in unhygienic, cramped cells after seven Uyghur inmates tried to escape from a detention center in Mukdaharn province in 2020. 

The NGOs and the Muslim council also called on the government to be mindful of an incident in 2015 when it deported 109 Uyghurs to China. The fates of those deported are not known. 

“Thailand must not make the same mistake twice. There is no reasonable reason for the Chinese government to ask the Thai government to force these Uyghurs to return to China where they will face persecution,” the statement said.  

The Uyghur people, who live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), are a Muslim minority who have endured persecution and repression by the Chinese government, cases of which have been well documented by human rights groups.  

Thai officials said the Uyghurs were detained after fleeing from XUAR as they tried to travel through Thailand, hoping to find asylum in Turkey or other countries. The exodus began in 2013 and 2014 when about 475 fled to Thailand. Since then, other Uyghurs have entered the country in a series of smaller waves. 

Human rights activists said human smuggling rings allegedly aided Uyghurs in entering Thailand from Myanmar and Laos. The asylum seekers traveled by roads and sometimes trekked through jungles to avoid police checkpoints along the way to Malaysia, but most ended up being rounded up in the far southern province of Songkhla, near the Malaysian border. 


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