173 Uighur refugees arrive in Turkey from Thailand
ANKARA - The Associated Press
Cihan PhotoA total of 173 people from the minority Chinese Muslim community of Uighurs have arrived in Turkey from Thailand, where they were being held after fleeing China, a Turkey-based Uighur group said on July 2.
Recep Akyol of the East Turkestan Migrants Association told The Associated Press the group, mostly women and children, arrived in Istanbul on June 30 and were being resettled in the central Turkish city of Kayseri, which boasts a strong Uighur community.
Turkey has ethnic and linguistic ties to the Uighurs. Under pressure from Turkish nationalist groups who advocate closer links, it has been trying for months to convince Thailand and China to allow the group to resettle in Turkey. The refugees had faced repatriation to China, where they feared mistreatment.
The Uighurs' resettlement comes as relations between China and Turkey have been strained over Turkish media reports suggesting that Uighurs were being banned from worship and fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan.
China’s Istanbul Consulate denied the claims of oppression of Uighurs in a statement issued on July 3.
“The allegation that Muslims in Xinjiang are banned from practicing their religion, such as fasting during Ramadan or praying, does not comply with the truth and is baseless,” said the statement, adding that the Chinese constitution protects its citizens’ freedom of religion and faith.
Turkey this week summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey Turkey's concerns over the reports. Beijing in turn, expressed its displeasure with Turkey's complaint.
Hundreds of people across Turkey have demonstrated to protest China's alleged Ramadan bans. Media said a restaurant serving Chinese food was attacked in Istanbul by protesters who did not realize it was Turkish-owned and that its chef was an ethnic Uighur.
Seyit Tumturk, the deputy head of the World Uighur Congress, thanked Turkish authorities on Wednesday for securing the 173 Uighurs' release. He said they were among a group of about 250 Uighurs held in Thai camps and hoped that the remaining refugees would also be allowed to leave Thailand.