200 'Turkish refugees' in Thailand are Uighurs
Muammer Elveren (Hürriyet) - Agence France-Presse
Suspected Turkish migrants sit after being detained at a rubber plantation in Hat Yai district of Songkhla province southern Thailand Thursday, March 13, 2014. AP PhotoThai police have discovered about 200 suspected "Turkish refugees" at a secret camp in the kingdom's deep south, officials said Thursday, describing the case as "unprecedented".
Thailand has long been a hub for people trafficking, with thousands of Rohingya boat people from neighbouring Myanmar believed to have passed through the kingdom in recent years.
The 200 refugees, whom police said identified themselves as Turkish, were detained after a raid on a camp in a mountainous rubber plantation on Wednesday night in the southern province of Songkhla.
"It's an unprecedented case that there are so many Turkish people arrested here," Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot said by telephone.
"They came as families and looks like they wanted to go somewhere else because they kept their belongings ready to move," he said, adding that several suspected minders had fled during the raid.
It was unclear how they arrived in Thailand. Police were waiting for an interpreter to help question the detainees, who have not yet been charged with any crime.
The Turkish embassy said it had no information about their case.
The UN refugee agency said it was providing assistance but was unable to confirm their identities.
"We have a team there to assess their urgent humanitarian needs and any protection needs," said spokeswoman Vivian Tan.
The refugees are from China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, daily Hürriyet learned. World Uighur Congress deputy chair Seyit Tümtürk told Hürriyet that 220 refugees, including 60 women and 82 children, fled Xinjiang and took a temporary shelter in Thailand. "The pressure in China is apparently not bearable anymore for these people that they leave their countries with their children in such a way," Tümtürk said.
In January, Thailand detained more than 500 Rohingya refugees after a raid on a suspected people-trafficking camp in its deep south, a Muslim-dominated region plagued by a nearly decade-long insurgency.
Thousands of Rohingya, described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted minorities, have fled sectarian violence in western Myanmar in rickety boats since 2012, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.
Thailand said last year it was investigating allegations that some army officials in the kingdom were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.