The Turkish Foreign Ministry has condemned the Thai government after Thailand announced that the country has forcefully extradited 115 Uighur Turks to China following their rescue from a human smuggling camp in March 2014.
The ministry statement said, “We were greatly saddened to learn that 115 Uighur Turks who had been detained in Thailand were sent back to a third country against their free will and wishes.”
The statement emphasised that, “The principle of non-refoulement which is clearly regulated by both the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees dated in 1951 and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment dated in 1984 is a main principle of international law.”
“These conventions are valid not only for refugees or people who have similar status to refugees but also for people who have a risk for violations of their right to life and torture in the cases of deportation and extradition as well as forceful extradition,” the statement continued.
The ministry said that Thailand has violated international humanitarian law by deporting the refugees and that it is unfortunate that their repeated calls to the Thai government and related international organisations have not not been heeded.
“The fate of our kin will closely and carefully be kept watching by Turkey and international community,” the statement added.
Thai government spokesman Major General Verachon Sukhonthapatipak said, during an interview with Thai Radio 105MHZ, that about 100 Uighurs who had been in Thailand for a year sent back to China on Thursday morning belonging to Chinese nationality, adding that their safety was “guaranteed according to humanitarian principles.”
He also said that another 170 were Turkish citizens, so they were sent to Turkey.
Thai authorities detained more than 200 Uighurs who had fled the western Chinese region of Xinjiang which is mostly populated by the Muslim Uighurs speaking a Turkic language in March 2014.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked in late November 2014 that Thailand to send the Uighurs to his country for sheltering. The request elucidated a harsh reply from Chinese government.
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, "We urge the relevant country [Turkey] to immediately stop meddling in placement work for the relevant case, be cautious with words and actions and not send out mistaken signals that connive in, and even support, illegal immigration activities," Reuters reported.
Human Rights Watch’s Thailand representative Sunai Phasuk told Anadolu Agency that the Uighurs have been held in different detention centres in Bangkok or in Songkhla in the southern part of the country since their capture.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed shock over the deportation decision, saying that the Thai royal government reassured the agency that it would handle the issue in accordance with international legal standards and under the agency’s protection.
"While we are seeking further clarifications on what happened exactly, we are shocked by this deportation of some 100 people and consider it a flagrant violation of international law," said Volker Turk, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
"I strongly urge the Thai authorities to investigate this matter and appeal to Thailand to honor its fundamental international obligations, notably the principle of non-refoulement, and to refrain from such deportations in the future," he added.
Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha said, “China has guaranteed their safety. If we send them back and there is a problem, that is not our fault,” according to Reuters.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic also made a statement on Friday referring to Anatolian hospitality and said, “Turkey, with that understanding, holds its doors wide open to Uighur who want to come to our country,” Turkish Anatolian Agency reported.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby has also condemned Thailand’s deportation of the Uighurs to China and stated that the action is against “long-standing practice of providing safe havens to vulnerable people.”
Kirby has also requested from China to give a fair treatment to the deported Uighurs in the country, and asked Thailand to let the remaining Uighurs go to a country they select.
The Thai government decided to close its embassy and consulates in Turkey following the fierce protests against its diplomatic offices.
It is expected that the developments on the Uighur deportation by Thailand and China’s role in the deportation will create a tension between China and Turkey before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s state visit to China scheduled on July 28.
Erdogan on Thursday warned the Turkish public over provocations and exploitation of the Uighur issue which has sparked outrage and protests in Turkey against China since the Muslim holy month Ramadan began last month.
Turkey has strong cultural ties with the Uighurs living in the Xinjiang autonomous region, which is called as “East Turkestan” by the Uighurs themselves, consists of nearly 45 percent Turkic-Muslim Uighurs while ethnically Han Chinese make up almost 40 percent of the region’s total population.
The Uighurs are subjected to discrimination in many respects including being prevented from practising their faith openly, the banning of beards and headscarves, and being prevented from teaching their children the Quran. Officials and people younger than 18 are banned from participating in religious activities.
The US State Department’s 2014 report shed light on China’s human rights abuses, which have been reported to increase both in Tibet and Xinjiang.