Three Uyghurs escape from Thai detention center

Thai authorities are searching for three Uyghur men who escaped from an immigration detention center in central Thailand earlier this week, a police investigator said Thursday.

The trio broke out of their cell before dawn on Monday, police Col. Rattapong Tiasud told BenarNews. The fugitives used a sharp tool to saw their way through metal bars as they escaped from the detention center in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, about 320 km (199 miles) south of Bangkok, according to an image that BenarNews obtained from another source.

“We are searching for them, and I’m awaiting reports from the ground. The search is a bit slow because of the public holidays lately,” said Rattapong, an investigator at the immigration bureau.

He identified the escapees by one name each – Ali, 25, Abdulla, 30, and Abdullah, 29.

As of late Thursday, the escapees were believed to be still at-large. They were among more than four dozen Uyghurs who were being held at detention centers across Thailand after they allegedly entered the country illicitly while fleeing from northwestern China.

The Uyghur people, who inhabit the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), are a Muslim minority who have long endured persecution and repression by the Chinese government, cases of which have been well documented by human rights groups. Since 2017, Chinese authorities have ramped up a harsh clampdown on Turkic-speaking minorities including Uyghurs in Xinjiang through arbitrary arrests and lengthy detentions in internment camps.

In March 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken labeled Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs as a genocide as he released his department’s annual report on the state of human rights worldwide.

A Thai activist estimated that 52 to 56 Uyghurs were being held at detention centers nationwide.

Thai officials said the Uyghurs were detained after fleeing from XUAR as they tried to travel through Thailand in the hope of finding asylum in Turkey or other countries. The exodus began in 2013 and 2014 when about 475 fled to Thailand.

Since then, other Uyghurs have entered the country in a series of smaller waves.

Rights activists said human smuggling rings had allegedly aided Uyghurs entering Thailand from Myanmar and Laos. The asylum seekers traveled by roads and sometimes trekked through jungles to avoid police checkpoints along the way to Malaysia, but most ended up being rounded up in the far southern province of Songkhla, near the Malaysian border.

Those still held in detention centers are in an immigration limbo because China wants them back while Thailand has not decided what to do, said Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Thai NGO that assists Uyghur refugees in the country.

“They have been detained for nearly 10 years. So the government should consider releasing them, find them a good place to live … and never, ever send them back to China because that means sending them to death,” Chalida told BenarNews in June.

“Also, we would be very grateful if the Thai government allowed them to leave for third-country asylum. But it has hit a deadlock due to the Chinese government’s pressure on Thailand.”

Anniversary statement

Last week, the World Uyghur Congress announced it was among 52 international organizations calling for an end to the prolonged detention of Uyghurs by the Thai government.

The statement, released on July 8, marked the seventh anniversary of the forced deportation of about 100 Uyghurs, including women and children to China. The deportation occurred after Thailand sent about 170 women and children to Turkey, a traditional haven for Uyghurs fleeing persecution in Xinjiang.

The statement followed efforts in June by more than a dozen Thai and international organizations who lodged a petition to the parliament’s foreign affairs committee seeking assurances that those being held in Thailand would not be sent back to China.

Rangsiman Rome, a member of the House foreign affairs committee, said he had received the petition and promised the NGOs that lawmakers would address the matter.

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