Thailand has forcibly repatriated nearly 100 Uyghurs to China, a move that drew criticism from human rights groups and protests in Turkey over the expulsion of the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that claims repression under Chinese rule.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s prime minster, told reporters on July 9 that his country was "not part of the dispute" between China and Uyghurs and had received guarantees from Beijing that the Uyghurs forced onto planes late on July 8 would be treated fairly.
"They will be provided with justice and safety. China confirmed they will be given access to fair justice," Prayuth told reporters at the government house in Bangkok.
Several neighboring countries have also extradited Uyghurs to China in recent years.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it was shocked at the deportation of a group believed to include women and children who did not wish to return to China.
"While we are seeking further clarifications on what happened exactly, we are shocked by this deportation of some 100 people and consider it a flagrant violation of international law," said Volker Turk, the UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection, in a statement.
On July 8, the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) warned of the impending repatriation and appealed for international intervention.
The WUC said it was "gravely concerned" about the fate of the Uyghurs. It said that the consequences of their repatriation were likely to include criminal allegations used to justify punishments that would be inflicted on them upon their arrival in China.
The forced deportation came despite the resettlement in Turkey last week of 173 mainly Uyghur women and children from among the detainees in Thailand, following long negotiations between the two countries.
Major General Weerachon Sukhontapatipak, deputy spokesman for the Thai government, said in Bangkok that the repatriation was "in line with a citizen verification procedure, which indicated them as Chinese and they must follow China’s justice."
"In regards with the 170 Uyghurs Thailand sent over to Turkey late June, this is an indication for Thailand's compliance with international-standard citizenship verification process. They are verified being Turkish, so they were sent to Turkey,” said Sukhontapatipak.
He added "there are about 50 Uyghurs who are pending citizenship verification completion."
In Turkey, local protesters responded to the expulsion by smashing windows and ransacking parts of the honorary Thai consulate in Istanbul.
The detainees had remained in limbo for more than a year into their detention, with Beijing demanding they be repatriated to China.
The Uyghurs are an indigenous people living in China's far western Xinjiang Province. The group has complained of cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule.
Chinese authorities have blamed an upsurge of violence in Xinjiang since 2012 on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
With reporting by Radio Free Asia's Uyghur Service, Reuters, and AFP