World Refugee Day 2019: Thailand should free Uyghur refugees

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For immediate Release
June 19, 2019 11:00 am EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on the Thai government to free the remaining Uyghur refugees held in detention camps. The Uyghurs should be released on the principle of non-refoulement and settled in safe third countries where they can rebuild their lives.

“The Uyghur refugees held in Thailand should be freed. They have been deprived of their liberty for approximately five years and it is time to end the pain of their uncertainty. If these Uyghurs were returned to China, they would be delivered into the hands of their persecutors. Their fear of the Chinese government is obvious,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat.

Mr. Kanat added: “In the context of the unprecedented repression in East Turkestan, states should follow the commendable example of Germany and Sweden and end deportations of Uyghurs to China. Furthermore, authorities must expedite existing Uyghur political asylum and refugee applications, as well as prioritize humanitarian acceptance of stateless and at-risk Uyghur refugees currently exposed to reprisals or deportation in third countries.”

In 2014, Thai authorities seized several groups of Uyghurs held in human trafficking camps in Songkhla and Sa Kaeo provinces. The Uyghurs had escaped severe political and economic repression in their homeland, as well as the criminalization of their religious and cultural identity.

In July 2015, 173 Uyghurs were released to start new lives in Turkey, a week later the Thai government forcibly returned over 100 refugees to China in violation of the non-refoulement principle contained in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture.

The U.S. State Department, the European Union and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights all criticized Thailand. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned the action and said it had occurred despite Turkish government attempts to stop the deportations.

Although a Thai delegation invited to China in late July 2015 claimed the returned Uyghur refugees were “well-treated,” details on Chinese government management of the visit and freedom of access to the returned Uyghurs were not disclosed to the public.

Since the Thai delegation’s trip, information on the whereabouts of the deported Uyghurs and specific charges faced by any of them has been scarce. In August 2015, Chinese state media published the forced confessions of some returnees who said they had been involved in terror networks and human smuggling rings.

In January 2015, the Uyghur refugees complained to a visiting Istanbul-based Uyghur journalist about health problems and overcrowded conditions in the detention facilities. Three Uyghurs, including a three-year-old boy, had already died despite the efforts of groups, such as the Thai Muslim Society, to provide relief. On August 1, 2018, Bilal, a 27-year-old Uyghur refugee, died in an immigration detention facility.

The 49 Uyghurs remaining in Thailand have resorted to extreme measures to force the Thai authorities into a decision on their cases. In May 2016, reports described how refugees had gone on hunger strike and turned to self-harm in protest and frustration at the length of their detention.

In November 2017, 20 Uyghurs broke out of their detention facility, 11 of whom fled to Malaysia. In a welcome move, Malaysia released to Turkey the 11 Uyghurs. Explaining the action, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said: “They have done nothing wrong in this country, so they are released.”