Intro : Amid growing protest from several human rights organisations, Thailand deported 100 Chinese Uighurs to China who were found to be accused and wanted by China for trials and investigations.
In July 2015, under severe criticism from the international communities and organisations, Thailand deported 100 odd Uighurs with Chinese nationalities to China. Uighurs are the minority Muslim community from China’s far western province called Xinjinag. The terrorist attacks and acts of violence in Xinjiang and at other places in China have been linked to a few minority terrorist outfits. Chinese state has relentlessly tried to identify and take measures to pin down these groups whether in China or outside of China. China has also been persistent to pursue those countries harboring or providing any shelters to the terrorist groups. The term deportation or repatriation generally refers to the forced removals of non-citizens who have been convicted of crime. This was not the first incident where Uighurs were deported from a Southeast Asian neighbour of China. Prior to Thailand, Cambodia was a country which agreed to deport the Chinese Uighurs in 2010.
In all these cases the deportation was initiated by Chinese under the pretext that the Uighurs asking for asylum are separatists. While defending its stand to deport, Thailand argued that its act of deportation does not involve rationale of inhumanitarian action and it merely carried out the deportation on the request of Chinese State only after a lengthy and tedious negotiations over nationality and facilitation of legal access for deported citizens. As a result of deportation, wide scale protests erupted throughout the world questioning the influence China is exercising to isolate the Uighur emigrants internationally. Apart from the protests by minority Muslim population in a few countries, the deportation was broadly termed as inhumanitarian across the world which also included United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) condemnation.
The Chinese legal set-up is believed to allow little room for open litigations and most of the times the judicial proceedings involving cases against Uighurs have been criticised for being secretive. More than the forced deportation, and as it has been criticised, the problem in Thailand’s action lies in the fact that the deportation looked just more than a legal expulsion of Uighurs. On the one hand, while China is criticised for depriving minority nationals of their rights, on the other, Thailand’s policies also came under heavy fire. This was not the first case of deportation handled by Thailand that too of minority communities fleeing away for refuge. In 2014, Thailand’s military government was criticised for deporting Rohingya asylum seekers back to Burma, again a marginalised community. These minority Muslims have been escaping Myanmar as a result of growing sectarian violence in Myanmar. In both cases Thailand received stern criticisms from a number of countries and especially from the human right groups.
Besides China and Thailand, Turkey also became a part of the whole debate over deportation. Outside China, Turkey has considerable amount of Uighur population in the world and they share same cultural and religious ties with Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang. Turkey also officially criticised Thailand’s policies of detaining the Uighurs and later conceding to Chinese pressure and forcing the minority Uighurs to return to China. A batch of 100 Uighurs, who were deported from Thailand to China, was verified to be accused and wanted by China for trials and investigations. Including turkey, a number of countries believe that the Uighurs will have limited or no access to legal arbitrations and may end up facing severe sentences. Incidentally, Thailand has recently in its comments over the deportation revealed that it would send its public officials to China along with some selected members of the international communities to check the ‘treatment’ of deported people, it would be interesting to see whether the Chinese state would concede. In another case, in June 2015, Thailand deported about 174 Uighurs to Turkey. Thailand claims that Turkey established their identity and citizenship. But given Turkey’s proposal to accept any Uighurs from Xinjinag, it seems like a covert understanding among the parties where Thailand might have conceded Turkey’s proposal for accepting the repatriation of Uighurs to save them from returning to China or left state-less in Thailand’s camps accused of lacking human conditions. Thailand anyways wants to get rid of Uighur emigrants with whatever choices available. Those who are left behind comprise of dependent family members including children and women and Turkey have already offered to accept them. As it is evident, China will start trials and avoid risks of public anger by carrying out these trials secretly.
Chinese netizens and the blogs have been pouring in to support the government actions. Some of the public opinions through blogs have been categorically criticising the double standards adopted by the western countries with some of them even going a step ahead and describing the records of human rights violation in those countries. China’s State Council Information Office recently (June 26, 2015) published a report titled “Human Rights Record of the United States in 2014” and a number of local newspapers and commentators have referred to it while countering the allegations from United States, Turkey and other non-governmental agencies.
Chinese external ministry, while commenting on the protests, claimed that the repatriation was a part of “normal law cooperation between China and Thailand on the issue of fighting illegal immigration,” without referring to the ‘terrorist profiling’ of deported Uighurs, which the Thailand had endorsed. Given the number of Uighurs trying to escape to Southeast Asian neighbouring countries like Malaysia, China is prepared for an all-out diplomatic exercise to influence and extinguish their hopes.
Aravind Yelery (The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi)