Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday defended the government’s decision to deport over 100 Uyghur Muslim migrants back to China, saying that if “there is a problem that is not our fault”. The PM’s comments come amid an outbreak of protests in Turkey over the handling of the situation, which led to an attack on the Thai honorary consulate-general in Istanbul.
The Thai government confirmed yesterday that it had forcibly sent 109 ethnic Uyghurs back to China. They’d been detained in Bangkok since March last year for illegally entering the country while escaping unrest in Xinjiang.
All of the detained Uyghurs claimed to be from Turkey, but only those who could prove they had Turkish relatives were sent there.
“Thailand sent around 100 Uyghurs back to China yesterday. Thailand has worked with China and Turkey to solve the Uyghur Muslim problem. We have sent them back to China after verifying their nationality,” deputy government spokesman Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
Munich-based exile group World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said it was “gravely concerned” about the exportation of Uyghurs, who are likely to face severe punishment upon their return to China.
“It is anticipated that the Chinese government is behind this covert, and indeed heinous, operation which aims to bring these Uyghurs back to harsh punishment, which possibly includes capital punishment,” the WUC said in a Radio Free Asia Report.
“The children, in particular, are in deep shock, unable to comprehend the cruelty engulfing them at the airport. The crying plea of women is falling on deaf air, disappearing over the horizon. The situation of the men is still unknown.”
In response to backlash, Prime Minister Prayuth responded: “If we send them back (to China) and there is a problem that is not our fault”.
Meanwhile, the decision sparked outrage in Turkey, which has strong cultural and religious links with the Uyghur people and has opened its doors to Uyghurs fleeing persecution in the restive Xinjiang region.
The Thai consulate in Istanbul was closed yesterday after a group of protestors broke in on Wednesday and ravaged the building, Bangkok Post reports, citing the local Sabah Turkey.
It was reported the group gathered in front of the consulate to make a press statement around 11pm local time (about 3am Thai time). Then the protest turned violent and the crowd broke into the consulate building, smashed the windows and lowered the Thai flag. Security authorities later dispersed the group, it reported. There were no injuries reported.
This is just the latest in a wave of protests by Turks against China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Earlier this week, China had issued a warning to its citizens in Turkey to stay clear of anti-Beijing protests in after a number of Chinese tourists were allegedly attacked by demonstrators.
The protestors had even targeted a group of Korean travelers, seemingly mistaking them for Chinese nationals. The attacks were mostly carried out by a youth group linked to the national opposition MHP, the Bangkok Post said.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, whose party could become the junior coalition partner in the next government, said it was understandable for the protesters to have mistaken the Korean tourists for Chinese in comments condemned on social media.
“These are young kids. One of them leads, the others follow. What feature differentiates a Korean from a Chinese? They see that they both have slanted eyes. How can they tell the difference,” Bahceli told Hurriyet on Wednesday.
“Our nationalist youth are sensitive about the oppression in China. They should be able to exercise their democratic right,” he said in an interview with the paper.
The Thai embassy in Turkey has since warned its citizens in the country to take precautions amid the conflict.