Uyghurs Held Without Charge Begin Hunger Strike at Thai Immigration Detention Facility
A group of 15 Uyghurs, who have been held at an immigration detention facility in Bangkok, Thailand, for over two years, began a hunger strike at 15:00 local time today (31 May 2016) to protest their poor treatment, challenge the legality of their indefinite detention, and bring greater attention to their circumstances.
The entire group who remain in detention is made up of around 70 Uyghur refugees in several detention facilities across Bangkok. The Uyghurs were likely initially arrested back in March 2014, some of whom were discovered in a human smuggling camp in Southern Thailand with others arrested attempting to cross the Thailand-Malaysia border around the same time.
In a letter sent by those now participating in the hunger strike to the WUC, it was explained that, “International institutions for protecting refugees including the UNHCR haven’t seriously cared about the tragic situation of Uyghur refugees—not only of those who have already been repatriated, but also of those who are still suffering in inhuman conditions in the Thai detention centers.” The letter went on to describe, strikingly, that, “We believe that it is better to die here rather to be repatriated, tortured and imprisoned in China”.
A translated copy of the letter in full is in what follows:
Urgent Appeal: We are Uyghur refugees from East Turkestan detained by Thai authorities for more than 2 years upon our difficult escape from Chinese repression.
Instead of protecting us from the imminent threat of mistreatment, torture and imprisonment upon our return, Thailand has already forcibly extradited more than 140 of us to China.
International institutions for protecting refugees including the UNHCR haven’t seriously cared about the tragic situation of Uyghur refugees—not only of those who have already been repatriated, but also of those who are still suffering in inhuman conditions in the Thai detention centers.
The Thai authorities neither treat us as refugees or even humans, nor are they willing to render us to Turkey who has offered its help. Rather, they forcibly separated and relocated families. We are in a desperate situation. We asked nothing more than to live in freedom without fear of repression because of our ethnicity and religion, we don’t want to be sent back to China where we will face torture and imprisonment.
We have no choice but to go on a hunger strike as we don’t want to stay any more years in detention innocently and without knowing about what will come upon us. We believe that it is better to die here rather to be repatriated, tortured and imprisoned in China as we know what they did to our fellow countrymen extradited by Thailand previously.
We urgently appeal to the international community not to stay silent on Thailand’s unfair treatment of Uyghur refugees, and urge Thai authorities to help protect us against China’s repression in accordance with international law.
The UNHCR clearly specifies in its Detention Guidelines relating to the status of asylum seekers that, “Indefinite detention is arbitrary and maximum limits on detention should be established in law”. Additionally, Guideline 6 clearly states that, “Asylum-seekers should not be held in detention for any longer than necessary; and where the justification is no longer valid, the asylum-seeker should be released immediately”.
As has also been spelled out by the Human Rights Committee and in relevant international law, “[I]n order to avoid any characterization of arbitrariness, detention should not continue beyond the period for which a State party can provide appropriate justification”. The Thai government continues provide no justification whatever for the continued detention of the group and must therefore release those detained unjustifiably.
The group represents some of the increasing numbers of Uyghurs who have been fleeing Chinese repression in East Turkestan—many of whom have been victims of human smugglers crossing borders in Southeast Asia in hopes of reaching relative security in Turkey.
Some have been fortunate enough to reach Turkey, as was the case with a group of 173 who were able to board a chartered flight to Istanbul on 30 June 2015. However, just a week later, on July 9th, 109 were forcibly returned to China, despite widespread condemnation from the international community, and likely in retaliation for Turkey’s acceptance of the Uyghur group the week prior.
Continued fears permeate the group as the health of those in custody has deteriorated as a result of their inability to access health facilities. In one case, a three-year-old boy died from health complications due to unhygienic conditions at the cramped facility back in December 2014.
Back in March 2015, a Thai court rejected claims that were brought from a group of 17 suspected Uyghurs, including 13 children, that they had been illegally detained, but made no further decision as to their fate or how the case should be handled by the state.
Two years of unlawful deprivation of the liberty of a group that has committed no crime is counter to international law and basic moral standards. No adequate justification has yet been provided by the government as to the legality of their actions.
The Thai government must therefore immediately address this grievous situation that has dragged on for far too long and release those who remain in detention. In addition, the WUC calls on the international community to take notice of the hunger strike and its implications for those involved.
The letter sent by the Uyghurs now on hunger strike concluded by explaining that, “We urgently appeal to the international community not to stay silent on Thailand’s unfair treatment of Uyghur refugees, and urge Thai authorities to help protect us against China’s repression in accordance with international law.”
The original letter has been copied below:
 UNHCR (2012). Detention Guidelines: Guidelines on the applicable criteria and standards relating to the detention of asylum-seekers and alternatives to detention. Available at: www.unhcr.org/505b10ee9.pdf
 D&E v Australia, CCPR/C/87/D/1050/2002  §7.2