News / Asia

Suspected Uighurs From China Remain in Limbo in Thailand

Suspected Uighurs are transported back to a detention facility in the town of Songkhla in southern Thailand after visiting women and children at a separate shelter, March 26, 2014.
Suspected Uighurs are transported back to a detention facility in the town of Songkhla in southern Thailand after visiting women and children at a separate shelter, March 26, 2014.
More than 400 suspected Uighurs from China, including young children, have been apprehended in Thailand in recent weeks and are waiting to find out their fate. Chinese authorities are pressing the Thai government to send them back to China, but those detained deny they are Chinese Uighurs and want to go to Turkey.
 
Diplomatic discussions with Thai officials about the 426 people in detention have been initiated by several countries, including China and the United States.
 
Two groups are being held; one in the Thai capital, the other in the southern province Songhkla.
 
The largest group was discovered during a March 12 raid on a trafficking camp on a rubber plantation.
 
Authorities say it is unprecedented for such a large, relatively prosperous and varied group of suspected Uighurs, which includes dozens of toddlers and their burqa-clad mothers, to have been apprehended in Thailand.
 
Investigators are certain they are mostly Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang region, where the ethnic minority faces discrimination and religious oppression.
 
China has announced it is cracking down on separatists in the region where there have been fatal clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese.
 
Phil Robertson, the Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, is calling on Thailand not to send the families back to China because of the risk of persecution. He said there are signs that Chinese authorities have been mischaracterizing the refugees to try to clear the way for their return. 
  
“We’ve already seen various different press accounts coming out from unnamed Thai officials that frankly have Chinese fingerprints on them that these people are terrorists, that they’re somehow intending ill will to Thailand. This is a group that is primarily made up of women and children. The concern is that China is trying to demonize them to try to pressure Thailand to send them back,” said Robertson.
 
Officials from Turkey’s embassy in Bangkok have spoken with representatives of the groups, and reports have said the diplomats are skeptical of them being from Turkey because they did not speak Turkish well.
 
But negotiations are under way for some or all of them to go to Turkey, a predominately Muslim country where many Uighurs live.
 
If that fails, Robertson said, the relevant agency of the United Nations needs to intervene.
 
“If, on the other hand, Turkey decides that they are not Turkish nationals, then it becomes a matter of Thailand needing to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to have unfettered access to these people to conduct refugee status determination if in fact, as we suspect, they are Uighurs,” said Robertson.
 
Some activists believe the group was smuggled together from Yunnan in southwestern China overland via Vietnam and Cambodia to Thailand, intending Malaysia as their next way station.
 
Published reports characterize Kuala Lumpur as a favorite departure point to Europe for those with stolen or forged travel documents. Two Iranians on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were attempting to get to Europe using stolen passports.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs