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Uighur asylum seekers detained in Thailand’s immigration detention facility have started a hunger strike, saying that they would rather die than be sent back to China.

At least 70 Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority from western China, who are detained in the Thai Immigration Detention Centre, have vowed to go on hunger strike until the Thai authorities set them free or send them to a third country, according to a report from Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Uyghur Service on Tuesday, 31 May 2016.

“If we are returned to China, we will face physical and emotional torture, and be killed or sentenced to prison for life,” RFA quoted from the group’s letter. “Therefore, we announce a hunger strike, in the belief it would be better to die from a hunger strike while in here. We will continue our hunger strike until we are freed or relocated to a third country or until we die here.”

In the letter, the group also criticised the Thai government, saying that the Thai authorities treated them inhumanely.

One of detained Uighurs who requested anonymity told RFA that they just wanted to escape China for a better life.

"We are not criminals," the RFA quoted the anonymous Uyghur asylum seeker as saying. "We escaped from China’s layers upon layers of oppression to free our wives and children and are detained in the democratic country of Thailand. If Thailand is a democratic country they should let us go to countries like Turkey."

In July 2015, 109 asylum seekers understood to be Uighurs, including some 20 women, were deported back to China by the Thai authorities.

According the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the 109 individuals, who were part of a larger group of more than 350, had been detained in very poor conditions at various immigration detention facilities across Thailand since March 2014.

The deportation triggered a backlash among Uighur supporters who on 9 July 2015 stormed the Thai Consulate in Ankara, Turkey. Some of the protesters smashed windows and destroyed property.

The US and several international organisations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued statements to condemn the deportation.

Although Thailand has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has not ratified it, which according to successive Thai governments, means that it has no obligation to observe its provisions.  

Image of a letter from the detained Uighur asylum seekers who have vowed to go on hunger strike until they are released (courtesy of the Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Uyghur Service)

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