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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid