Uyghur American Association strongly condemns Thai government decision to forcibly return Uyghur refugees

Deportations occurred in contravention of international law, remaining Uyghurs require international protection

For immediate release
July 9, 2015 5:35 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) strongly condemns the forcible return of 109 Uyghur refugees from Thailand to China on July 8. The decision of the Thai authorities places the returned Uyghur refugees at high risk of mistreatment and contravenes the principle of non-refoulement. UAA understands from Thai diplomatic sources that 67 Uyghurs remain in Thailand, among them elderly persons, women and children. UAA urges the international community, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), to press the Thai government to ensure the safe passage of the 67 Uyghurs to a third country, preferably Turkey, where Uyghur refugees have been recently resettled.

“The forcible return of these persecuted Uyghur refugees from Thailand to China was a political decision and violated their right to be safe from their oppressors. However, international human rights law means little to China when it comes to the Uyghurs and precedent shows that these forcibly returned Uyghurs will be harshly treated in Chinese custody,” said Alim Seytoff, UAA President.

Mr. Seytoff added: “The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees. As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

According to the Thai government 109 Uyghurs were returned to China on July 8. UAA learnt from the aforementioned Thai diplomatic source that of the deported Uyghurs 89 are male and 20 female. The Uyghurs were removed from three detention centers, including one in Trat, and taken to Dong Muang Air Force base near Bangkok. Reports indicating a clash between some Uyghurs resisting deportation and Thai security personnel resulted in fatalities are unconfirmed.

An UNHCR spokesperson described the deportations “as a flagrant violation of international law” and Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters: “It is very shocking and disturbing that Thailand caved in to pressure from Beijing.” The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the forced deportation and according to an Associated Press article dated July 9, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara also condemned the forced return of the Uyghurs. The Turkish Foreign Ministry added the Thai government action occurred despite Turkish government attempts to stop the deportations.

UAA understands the rightful indignation of the Uyghur community to the deportations, especially among those Uyghurs whose family members were forcibly returned to China. UAA urges a calm response and a continuation of peaceful demonstrations against the decision.

Cited in the July 9 Associated Press article, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters: “China would take action against those suspected of breaking the law.” UAA believes this statement indicates the deported Uyghurs are already under suspicion and are unlikely to receive a legal process that meets international standards.

According to Radio Free Asia reports Uyghurs deported from Cambodia in 2009 and Malaysia in 2011 were tried secretly after their forced return to China. Radio Free Asia detailed how two of the Uyghurs deported from Cambodia were handed life sentences. On December 21, 2009, two days after the Uyghurs were forcibly returned from Cambodia, the New York Times wrote Cambodia had signed 14 deals with China worth US$1 billion.

Uyghurs have been deported from Southeast Asian nations susceptible to Chinese economic and diplomatic pressure in the past. Six Uyghurs were forcibly removed from Malaysia in December 2013; 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia in August 2011 (one of whom was a legal resident according to local Uyghurs); one Uyghur from Thailand in August 2011; seven from Laos in March 2010; 17 from Burma in January 2010; 20 Uyghurs from Cambodia in December 2009 (one of whom had a Cambodian visa); two from Vietnam on an unknown date; and 11 from Vietnam in April 2014. A Uyghur returned to China from Vietnam in 2014 died in prison in Guangxi “under mysterious circumstances” while serving a 11-month sentence for “illegal travel.”

UAA reminds the Thai authorities that under the principle of non-refoulement, contained in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT), the remaining 67 Uyghurs should not be deported to China, as they face the high probability of persecution given China’s documented mistreatment of returned Uyghurs. Thailand ratified CAT on October 2, 2007 and an op-ed published in the Bangkok Post on November 19, 2014 describes Thailand’s prior history of respect for the principle of non-refoulement.

UAA believes it is the responsibility of UNHCR and the international community to help the remaining Uyghurs refugees by urging the Thai government to respect the principle of non-refoulement.

UAA urges the international community to continue monitoring the treatment of the 109 Uyghurs who have been forcibly returned.