PRESS RELEASE: WUC Deeply Concerned Over Uyghurs Recently Escaped From Thai Immigration Detention Facility

Press Release – For immediate release
22 November 2017

Contact: World Uyghur Congress
+49 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

The World Uyghur Congress is deeply concerned over the treatment of Uyghurs who have recently escaped their immigration detention facility in southern Thailand. Consistent rhetoric from China has framed all Uyghurs escaping the country as criminals who should be immediately returned, renewing fears that Thailand may submit to such pressure, as in the past.

It was recently reported that 20 Uyghurs escaped their immigration detention facility in Thailand close to the Malaysian border, in the early hours of November 20th, using blankets as ladders to escape. As of Tuesday, November 22nd, ten have already been re-captured and reports indicate that others may have already crossed into Malaysia.

The Chinese government has already called on Thailand to “quickly bring to justice” those who escaped. Real concern remains over the use of problematic language in the past by China, who has largely framed the issue of Uyghurs escaping East Turkestan through Southeast Asia as one of criminality, despite no court ever weighing in on the case in that respect.

In this context, we urge the international community to be wary of false information and unsubstantiated reporting, as some may be intent on politicizing the issue as a means of falsely framing Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers as criminals, as we have seen often in the past.

The escaped asylum seekers had been held in detention in Thailand since early 2014. Desperation on the part of those still detained has been demonstrated by a number of escape attempts and at least two hunger strikes in 2015 and 2016 to protest their poor treatment, challenge the legality of their indefinite detention, and bring greater attention to their circumstances. Part of the group took their case to a Thai court to adjudicate in 2015, claiming that their detention was prolonged and arbitrary, but were ultimately rejected.

Before the escape attempt, around 60 Uyghurs had remained in Thai immigration detention facilities around the country waiting for the Thai government to make a decision on their case. The group was part of the much larger group—some of whom were transferred to Turkey and others transferred to China in retaliation in July 2015. All of those that currently remain have been in detention without charge for nearly four years in poor conditions.

In 2017, we witnessed the forced return of Uyghur students from Egypt while studying overseas. Many of those in Egypt were able to flee to Turkey, where they continue to wait to be properly settled in the country or moved to a safe third country. In these cases, there has been little that the UNHCR has been able to do to effectively protect those seeking asylum, such was the case in 2009 when Cambodia forcibly returned 20 Uyghurs who were already in the registration process.

Uyghur have fled China in recent years on account of growing repression in East Turkestan. Uyghurs are not able to conduct religious practice and the Uyghur language itself is now under direct threat. Thousands of innocent Uyghurs are now being rounded up and are detained at ‘re-education’ centres. The intense upsurge in security in the region and the use of ‘predictive policing’ to arrest those who might commit a crime in the future has made life for many Uyghurs suffocating and intolerable.

It is utterly deplorable that no action has been taken and dozens of Uyghurs have remained in detention for nearly four years without charge. The international community and the UNHCR must press Thailand to relieve itself of the burden of holding the group and of the Uyghurs themselves who have waited far too long for deserved reprieve.

In light of these circumstances, the WUC demands that:

  • National governments abide by their commitments under international law to refrain from forcibly repatriating asylum seekers where they are at significant risk of persecution.
  • Uyghurs who remain in detention in Thailand have their cases promptly heard in court.
  • Detention conditions meet international standards in terms of healthcare.
  • UN member states and the UNHCR denounce poor treatment of Uyghur asylum seekers and commit to the principles outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
  • More attention be brought to Chinese influence over national governments urged to forcibly return Uyghurs fleeing persecution against their will.