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

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora