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Uighur deportation sparks anger in Turkey

Suspected Uighurs from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang sit inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla, 14 March 2014.
Suspected Uighurs from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang sit inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla, 14 March 2014. Reuters

Hundreds of Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim minority, have been deported to China by the Thai authorities   despite calls for their protection. This comes after another 170 were deported to Turkey, where they claim they belong, in late June. 

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More than 300 Uighur Muslims have found refuge in Thailand in the past year, fleeing persecution in China. While 170 Uighurs have been deported to Turkey recently, another 100, among them women and children, have been deported to China instead because they were unable to prove they had relatives in Turkey and were found to be Chinese nationals.

Uighurs are fleeing in the first place because of the repression they suffer from Chinese authorities who consider them separatists and/or terrorists and have cracked down on their religion and culture.

Part of this crackdown is, for example, due to the fact that they have been forbidden to follow the rules of Ramadan during this Muslim holy month.

Both UNHCR and Human Rights Watch representatives in Thailand said they were shocked by the Thai authorities' decision.

This also triggered anger and violence in Turkey's capital, Istanbul. The Thai consulate was attacked, mainly by members of a far-right party in Turkey called the Grey Wolves.

Ahmet Insel, a Turkish political analyst, said they were always trying to show their support, especially to those they consider their brothers.

"The Chinese don’t want these people moving to foreign countries, because they are afraid they will do anti-China propaganda," he told RFI in a phone interview. "They don’t want to see a massive wave of Uighur leaving the country. I think that they wanted to show that if they left and went to Thailand or other neighbouring countries, these countries, under Chinese pressure, would send them back to China."

These recently deported Uighurs could face heavy sentences and further persecution back in China, according to Alim Seytoff, the spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress.

"First of all, they will be charged for simply fleeing China," he said. "This has become an embarrassment for the Chinese government in front of the international community. And this gives them another excuse to further persecute them. In the past, some were sentenced to many years or life in prison; some others were simple executed for their non-violent opposition of China's colonial ruling."

Many countries have in the past returned members of the Uighur community to China after having been pressured by Beijing

There are still around 50 Uighur Muslims in Thai detention, as the local authorities are trying to determine their nationalities.

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