The WUC Strongly Condemns Recent Return of Refugees to China from Thailand
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is gravely concerned about the fate of upwards of 109 Uyghur refugees who were being held at a Thai detention camp in and around Bangkok, whose repatriation was recently ordered by the Chinese government. We are additionally concerned of the fate of those that remain in detention in Thailand. We therefore strongly condemn the Thai and Chinese governments’ complicity in these crimes and implore the international community to firmly hold them to account over such a clear breach of international law.
According to the Turkish newspaper, Yeni Şafak, as well as a WUC source, in the early morning of Wednesday, July 8th, reportedly 109 Uyghurs, who had been held in immigration detention facilities across in Bangkok for over a year, were hurriedly gathered at a military airport where two Chinese planes were waiting to return them to an unknown location in China.
The first plane was loaded primarily with women and children, along with a small group of men, and departed without incident. The second plane, however, was intended to transport around 65 men, but authorities faced some resistance from the men in doing so.
Consequences of their repatriation are likely to include dubious criminal charges used as a pretext to justify harsh punishment upon their arrival in China. The Chinese government has repeatedly called such escapees criminals and all those who are to be returned will most certainly be treated in such a manner.
These events come just a week after the reported transfer of 173 Uyghurs to Kayseri, Turkey, on a secret charter flight from the very same detention facilities in Bangkok. China has become increasingly indignant of Turkish cooperation with Uyghurs and its recent condemnation of Ramadan restrictions. It is likely that the repatriation of this group has been in direct response to these increasing tensions or as an indication of the power that the Chinese government holds in relation to its neighbouring states.
This is not, however, the first case in which Uyghurs have been illegally returned to China from neighbouring states. Past cases have illustrated that extradited Uyghurs have effectively disappeared after their return to China. Chinese officials have refused to release information about the fates of almost all of the Uyghurs who have been repatriated in recent years.
Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers have been forcibly deported from states with strong trade and diplomatic ties to China. In December 2009, 20 were returned to China from Cambodia, another 5 from Pakistan and 11 from Malaysia in August, 2011, and another six again from Malaysia in what Human Rights Watch called a “grave violation of international law” in 2013. In addition, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, and Nepal have extradited Uyghurs to China and since 2001 at least 180 Uyghurs have been forcibly deported.
Notwithstanding the efforts taken at ensuring the group was loaded onto the planes, the act of forcibly repatriating refugees or asylum seekers is in clear infringement of well-established international law. The non-refoulement principle, spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which China is a signatory, requires that states do not allow for the forcible return of refugees or asylum-seekers to territories where their “life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, member of a particular social group, or political opinion”.
The current case has already proved to be a test of this principle. Thai authorities are legally obligated not to return these refugees to China because of the imminent threat that they may be subjected to harsh treatment. All those in such a situation must be provided the opportunity to have their cases fairly reviewed by the UNHCR or other competent body, but all facts point to the opposite being true here.
Because of the ongoing political, cultural and religious persecution of Uyghurs in East Turkestan, we remain rightly concerned that arrest, imprisonment and torture may be awaiting many of those returned this week. Furthermore, nearly 100 Uyghurs also remain in detention facilities in Thailand, whose futures remain unclear.
We therefore call on the international community to pressure the Thai government to stop the deportations and abide by internationally recognized human rights law and to strongly raise concerns about this case to ensure that the Chinese authorities responsible are firmly held to account. International law must stand as the bedrock of justice in cases involving those who rely on it as a last resort.