A United Nations agency is pressing Thailand to let more than 50 ethnic Uighurs travel to Turkey, instead of sending them to China. Thai officials have faced criticism from rights groups and other countries for forcibly returning another group of Uighurs to China earlier this month.
The secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council has been attempting to ease fears over China’s treatment of the returned Uighurs. This week, Anusit Kundakorn went to the detention center in Xinjiang where the 109 Uighurs are being held. He told Thai reporters that they are living in good conditions. He called the camp “clean and neat.”
The official said 13 of those sent to China are being investigated for possible involvement in terrorism. China has accused some Uighurs of working with militants such as the Islamic State group.
Thai officials have been negotiating with both China and Turkey for more than a year. The talks were launched after more than 350 Uighurs were found in hiding in Thailand.
About 180 Uighurs, mostly women and children, were sent to Turkey after receiving legal immigration documents. Turkey often provides such documents to Uighurs because of cultural links to the ethnic minority and claims that Uighur Muslims face persecution in China.
But more than 50 Uighurs remain at a Bangkok immigration detention center.
Vivian Tan is with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She says the Thai government should give the group permission to travel freely.
“Well, basically, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Thailand to refrain from deporting people forcibly in (the) future. We’re urging the government to allow people who are still here (in Thailand) to depart voluntarily to a place where the government is willing to receive them.”
Benjamin Zawacki is a human rights advocate and lawyer. He says Thailand failed to let international organizations examine the cases of the Uighur refugees before sending them to China.
The Uighurs in Thailand have denied that they are from China. They instead claim that they are from Turkey. Turkish officials have visited them and provided them with legal travel documents to enter Turkey. But Thai officials have delayed the process because of pressure from China.
Because of criticism of Thailand’s actions, the National Human Rights Commission called an urgent meeting of officials from national security, immigration and the foreign ministry. United Nations officials and human rights organizations also were invited to the talks.
Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara said processing future refugee claims must be based on human rights values. He also said that the more than 50 Uighurs still in Thailand should be sent to Turkey. But reports say Chinese officials are keeping pressure on Thailand to send the Uighurs to China.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has declined to comment on where the Uighurs will be sent. He has only said that they will remain in Thailand “for a while.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Ron Corben reported this story for VOANews.com. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
forcibly - adv. made or done with physical force
persecution – n. the act of threatening of treating others in a harmful way because of their race, religion or other beliefs
advocate – n. someone who argues for or supports a cause; activist