News / Asia

As China Cracks Down in Xinjiang, Uighurs Turn Up in SE Asia

Ethnic Uighur Muslims line up beside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand, Mar. 15, 2014.
Ethnic Uighur Muslims line up beside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand, Mar. 15, 2014.
Gabrielle Paluch
Ethnic Uighur Muslims in China have long had tense relations with the government, which they accuse of policies aimed at their political and cultural marginalization. For years, some Uighurs have fled China to live abroad. But as China carries out another security crackdown in Xinjiang, activists say rising numbers are arriving in Southeast Asia, where they face an uncertain future.

Thai immigration officials say there are at least 400 Uighurs in detention in Thailand, and more believed to be in hiding. Some 29 Uighurs were reported discovered near the Cambodian border earlier this year. In Vietnam, at least 21 Uighurs were involved in a gunfight near a border checkpoint last month, where they were resisting deportation back to China. And in Malaysia, activists say there are at least a few hundred Uighurs either trying to settle down or seeking asylum abroad.

Thailand is no stranger to illegal immigrants, with hundreds of thousands of Burmese and Cambodia migrant workers. But immigration official Thatchai Pitaneelaboot said the country has never seen so many illegal Uighur migrants, many of whom are women and children. He said across Thailand, all of them exhibit remarkably similar, disciplined behavior, refusing to communicate with anyone.

“Absolutely they act differently. They don't talk much they don't speak to strangers even officers they don't talk they don't talk to officers and rarely they'll communicate with the others. And they're kind of quiet usually they pray and they keep quiet not like Rohingya,” he said.

Thatchai said he believed the Uighurs have tapped into existing human smuggling and trafficking networks used by Burma's ethnic Rohingya Muslim migrants, that rely on two Thai trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand.

The Uighurs' arrival in southeast Asia has raised questions about whether the security crackdown in China is causing an exodus. Activists said years of repressive policies that limit educations and professional opportunities, and heavy handed security measures in Uighur population centers, are leading more people to flee abroad.

VOA spoke with one exiled Uighur who helped illegal migrants before he himself sought asylum in Canada. He said Chinese security policies have hardened since the terrorist attacks, leading more Uighurs to flee abroad, following escape routes used by persecuted Falun Gong practitioners.

"Most of them are women and children. Some of woman, [their] husband is in jail, some of them killed by Chinese police. Some of their family escape because most of them living in countryside not city they coming there and then inside inland China, Chinese smugglers [are] trying to help them. Because that's why they try to contact with any Falun Gong peoples who escape from China," he said.

He wished to remain anonymous for fear of government retribution against family members remaining in China.

China accuses some exile Uighur groups of supporting secession or terrorism, and Beijing presses foreign governments to return illegal Uighur migrants. Neighboring countries have largely complied in recent years, despite complaints from human rights groups.

But there has been no decision yet for groups now in detention in Thailand and Malaysia. The Uighurs say they want to live in Turkey, which has cultural and linguistic similarities, and a government that has been willing to risk the ire of China to accept them.

The Uighur World Congress in Turkey now estimates the Uighur community there to number as many as as 30,000.

The Turkish government has not yet said it will accept the latest batch of asylum seekers, but 35 Uighurs departing from Kuala Lumpur on March 25 were allowed to pass through immigration after spending 18 days stranded at the airport. A Turkish diplomat in Bangkok told VOA that the Turkish government "cares deeply for this group."

Yitzchak Shichor specializes in Sino-Turkish relations at the University of Haifa. He said that China could punish Turkey for accepting the Uighurs, using their trade imbalance to put economic pressure on Ankara.

"The other thing is military relations. As you know, the Turkish government decided to buy a Chinese missile system. The decision is not yet final because it creates a lot of problems for Turkey in terms of its membership in NATO, but this is again something that is on the line, so there are various ways the Chinese can apply pressure on Turkey. The Chinese refuse the Turkish request to stop conflict in Xinjinag, so there are many things whereby the Chinese can apply pressure on Turkey," he said.

For now, Thai immigration authorities said they were waiting for proof of citizenship before the government decides whether to turn the group over to Chinese or Turkish authorities.

According to Uighur activists, the fate of the current detainees in southern Thailand will be a strong indication of whether or not more will risk the journey through Southeast Asia.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid