BANGKOK, THAILAND - Thailand is under heavy criticism for forcibly deporting more than 100 ethnic Uighurs to China, and it is meeting with rights activists and others later this week to discuss the fate of 50 more who are still in Thailand.
Thailand National Human Rights Commission chief Niran Pitakwatchara will meet Friday with representatives from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and rights groups.
The talks hope to salvage Thailand’s hard hit global reputation after deporting 109 ethnic Uighur refugees back to China, triggering international condemnation accusing the junta of breaching international human rights laws.
China insists the Uighurs sent back were traveling to join the Islamic State.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan said the Thai junta failed to anticipate the depth of criticism over the deportations.
“The junta should listen to international organizations like UNHCR – if they have no capability to do it. They should listen to the advice of the international organizations and let them interfere in the name of humanitarian and human rights principles. I am not sure how much they realize the damage they [have] done to the country,” said Puangthong Pawakapan.
After lengthy negotiations, about 180 ethnic Uighurs, mostly women and children, were permitted to travel to Turkey. Thailand’s decision to deport more than 100 others to China sparked angry demonstrations in Turkey, however, as crowds attacked the Thai and Chinese missions.
All have been seeking to travel to Turkey, which has ancient cultural links to the Uighurs and has provided the legal documents for the detainees in Thailand to immigrate.
Director Chalida Tajaroensuk, of the Thai rights group the People’s Empowerment Foundation, says after the international criticism she is optimistic the remaining 52 Uighur women and children will be transported to Turkey.
“Right now women, only 52; but I do not think that they will send them to China because there is a lot of pressure right now [on the government]," said Tajaroensuk. "If they send them out they should be sent to Turkey right now. But our point is how to protect the 109 person[s] in China, that is more sensitive.”
Thai officials say they are sending a team to China to oversee the welfare of the 109 Uighurs sent back last week.
Rights activists say the outcome of Friday’s meeting led by the National Human Rights Commission is expected to provide a clearer view on the Thai government’s policy toward the Uighurs.