On Thursday, Turkish protesters vandalized the Thai consulate in Istanbul following the deportation of more than 100 Uighurs from Thailand. Human rights groups claim that the deported Uighurs hold refugee status and that they will face persecution and violence in China.
Uighurs (pronounced “WEE-ghers”) are a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, mostly residing in the western region of Xinjiang. Ethnic violence in the region has left hundreds dead over the past two years. Chinese authorities blam Uighur extremists for the unrest.
For Thailand, the refugees were not their problem, according to Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, and that they would be sent to a different country that would deal with the refugees according to its own judicial system. He did not mention China.
"I strongly urge the Thai authorities to investigate this matter and appeal to Thailand to honor its fundamental international obligations," said Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the UN’s High Commission for Refugees, in a statement.
A representative for the Thai military junta, which took power last year in a coup d’état, said that the Chinese Government had assured the safety of the deported Uighurs.
The Chinese government, on the other hand, has said that it would take action against those it suspected of breaking the law. It asserts that these Uighurs left the country illegally, and have accused Uighur separatists of terrorism in Xinjiang.
"China's relevant departments will bring those who are suspected of committing serious crimes to justice according to law," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. "As for those who are not suspected of committing crimes or who commit lesser offences, we will find proper ways to deal with them."
Phil Robertson, the Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights advocacy group, tweeted that the Uighers will likely face torture upon return to China.
The Turkish people, who hold ethnic ties to the Uighurs, expressed outrage over Thailand’s decision, holding protests outside the consulate in Istanbul and vandalizing the building.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned Thailand, saying that the country HAD violated international humanitarian law. Turkish officials said they would monitor Thailand’s actions.
The Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara released a statement on their Facebook page (in Thai) urging Thai people in Turkey not to display Thai flags or engage with protesters.
The Thai government has issued a statement placing its citizens living in Turkey on “high alert” as the situation unfolds.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.