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In a petition submitted to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, representatives from several civil society organisations have demanded that the Thai government stop returning Uyghur refugees to China and arrange for their relocation to safe-haven countries.

(On microphone) Rangsiman Rome receives a petition from the CSOs.

On Wednesday (15 June), Chalida Tajaroensuk from the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a local NGO working on refugee issues, explained that Uyghur migrants flee here to escape persecution from the Chinese government and seek resettlement in a third country.

According to Chalida as reported by the Reporters, Thai authorities previously helped them to do this in the past. in 2013, some 1,700 Uyghur women and children were relocated to Turkey. However, some 56 Uyghur refugees are currently being detained by Thai Immigration authorities and the Thai government is under pressure from Beijing to deport them back to China.

Sunai Phasuk, an expert from Human Rights Watch (HRW), noted that the 56 detainees have yet to receive preliminary consideration for asylum as stipulated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

He is concerned that there may be a repetition of a 2015 incident, when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and the junta allowed Thai sovereignty to be breached by deporting 109 Uyghur refugees back to an uncertain future in China. The Uyghurs see Thailand as a path to Muslim countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, and he argues that Thailand must abide by its commitment to international conventions and laws by not sending people back to places where they would face possible dangers.

Rangsiman Rome, a representative from Move Forward Party (MFP) who also serves on the committee, promised to discuss the matter with his colleagues and find a solution.  He added that it was unthinkable that someone would have to endure being detained at the Suan Plu immigration prison for over eight years.

As for the 2015 deportation of 109 refugees, Rangsiman promised that then deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and responsible officers from the National Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be summoned before the committee to explain why they acted in violation of international norms.  He add that the matter should be debated in the country as it was a shameful sight when viewed from abroad.

Uyghur refugees in Thailand began to receive public attention in 2015, when Thai authorities deported 109 refugees back to China.  On 17 August of that year, two Uyghurs with domiciles in Ürümqi - Adem Karadak and Yusuf Mieraili - were also accused of bombing the Erawan Shrine at Ratchaprasong Intersection, one of Bangkok’s busiest downtown areas. The bomb killed 20 people and injured 130.

Facing national security-related charges, the two were tried in a military court in 2016. The proceedings were later moved to a civilian criminal court in 2019 by order of the junta. Karadak and Mieralili have denied any wrongdoing and withdrawn confessions that they claim were obtained through torture.

According to Benar News, the trial proceed slowly because of witnesses who failed to appear for court sessions. Defence lawyers also objected to the fact that the court-appointed Uyghur interpreter was sent from the Chinese Embassy, raising concerns of bias.

The two defendants have been detained at Lak Si temporary prison up to the present. Benar News reports that they have never been allowed to contact their relatives and that their food sometimes contained pork, despite the fact that both men are Muslims.

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