After receiving news about the escape of 20 of the 25 Uyghurs from the Songkhla Sadao immigration detention center, we’re concerned about their safety and future. We fear that they may be fall in the hands of Chinese authorities. As far as we know, these Uyghurs have no documents. We believe that they fled detention fearing that they would be turned over to Chinese authorities like the more than 100 Uyghurs Thailand refouled to China and because of the poor conditions they faced in the detention center.
The Uyghurs took the risk of capture and perhaps harsh repercussions to try to save themselves from indefinite detention in Thailand and from deportation to China. Regardless of the reasons for the hopelessness that led them to escape, we are deeply concerned about their uncertain future. According to news reports, the Uyghur men identified themselves as Turkish nationals while Chinese authorities insisted they were Chinese nationals and demand their return. Whey are indeed Turkish nationals as they claim or Chinese nationals as China claims, the fact that they are ethnic Uyghur is enough for them to face persecution and harsh punishment.
The Uyghurs Thailand previously handed over to China were treated like terrorists even as they were prepared for transfer at the Thailand airport. And the world hasn’t heard about the condition or whereabouts of those Uyghurs since their return to China. But the situation in Eastern Turkistan has become unbearable for all Uyghurs since Chen Quanguo took power in Eastern Turkistan. Thousands of Uyghurs are being held prisoner in so called “re-education” camps or centers and thousands more are at risk of being detained. Uyghurs students who studied abroad in Egypt and Turkey and their families in Eastern Turkistan are facing lengthy prison sentences. Canadian Uyghur Husseyn Celil’s imprisonment is another example of how China treats those Uyghurs who are turned over to Chinese authorities.
We ask Thailand and its neighboring countries that may capture these Uyghurs to treat them in accordance with international law and not refoul them to China. We call on the OHCHR, UNCHR, and human rights organizations in Southeast Asia to advocate for the rights and protection of the 20 Uyghurs who escaped immigration detention.