A group of 14 ethnic minority Uighurs, including six children, fleeing China were arrested on Saturday in the Thai border province of Sa Keo after Cambodian smugglers deserted them on Friday, Thai media reported yesterday.
The five men, three women and six children who were apprehended claim they were en route to Turkey, which shares ethnic links with Uighurs and is home to a large Uighur community, the report states.
“After searching the refugees, authorities found four cell-phones with the data wiped clean and 1,027 yuan [about $165] and $42,950,” according to Thailand’s The Nation.
Violence between the mostly Muslim minority group and ethnic Han Chinese has been increasing in recent years, leading many Uighurs – who say oppression perpetuated by the Chinese government is unliveable – to flee.
On March 23, a group of 15 Uighurs fleeing China were also arrested in Sa Keo after being detained by authorities in Cambodia hours earlier, Human Rights Watch and an eyewitness source reported.
Cambodian government officials at the time had denied or declined to comment on allegations that 15 foreigners had either been arrested or deported.
So Channary, commander of the border police in Banteay Meanchey province, yesterday said he had heard no reports of Uighurs deported to Thailand.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan and National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith both said they had no knowledge of Saturday’s arrests.
“Thai authorities should immediately grant access to the UNHCR to assess whether these people wish to seek refugee status, and while any such claims for asylum are pending should not send them back to China,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.
Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangkok, said she had not heard about the arrests.