Border police yesterday continued to deny their alleged involvement in detaining and subsequently deporting a group of 15 ethnic Uighurs to Thailand – where they were arrested – even as a prominent Uighur rights group condemned the Kingdom’s track record in dealing with the Turkic ethnic minority.
Human Rights Watch, citing sources in the Thai government, said on Wednesday that 15 Uighurs detained in Thailand on Sunday had been first detained in Banteay Meanchey province’s border town of Poipet, an account corroborated by an eyewitness statement provided to the Post.
But So Channary, commander of Banteay Meanchey’s 911 border police unit, maintained that his forces “never arrested any of them, recently or now”.
“We never netted them at all,” he went on to say.
But the denials didn’t spare the government any criticism.
“Time and again, Cambodia failed to protect Uyghur refugees by refusing to uphold its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention which it ratified,” World Uyghur Congress spokesman Alim Seytoff said via email yesterday.
“Cambodia should be condemned for its violation of international law and complete disregard of the UN Refugee Convention.
“Now it is Thailand’s duty to protect these Uyghur refugees.”
Vivian Tan, a spokesperson for the UNHCR office in Bangkok, said that she had received no word of an asylum request from the 15, but noted that people fleeing persecution sometimes opt not to seek asylum.
And while she had no firsthand knowledge of the case, Tan added that Thailand has accepted more than a million refugees in recent decades.
“Thailand has not acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention, but it has been hosting refugees for a very long time,” Tan said, admitting that “occasionally it can be challenging, because the country lacks national legislation or a national system to process asylum cases”.
HRW’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said yesterday that he had received no new word on the 15 Uighurs. Robertson also pointed to Thailand’s “very mixed record on asylum seekers,” noting that, “for Uighurs, Thailand has often failed to provide them with support and protection”.
Nonetheless, the Uighurs would have been no better off in Cambodia, he said.
“The fact that Uighurs from China, and dissidents, bloggers, and Khmer Krom activists from Vietnam flee through Cambodia to Thailand should tell you something about how poor Cambodia’s record is in refugee protection.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND KEVIN PONNIAH