Activists demand release of Uyghurs held in Thai immigration detention center

Protests held outside Thai embassies, consulates in Germany and the United States
By RFA Uyghur
2023.05.05
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Uyghurs demonstrate outside the Thai embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for the release of Uyghur refugees still remaining in Thai immigration detention centers in Thailand, on Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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Uyghurs demonstrate outside the Thai embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for the release of Uyghur refugees still remaining in Thai immigration detention centers in Thailand, on Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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Uyghurs demonstrate outside the Thai embassy as a security guard watches from inside in Washington, D.C., Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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Elfidar Iltebir, president of the Uyghur American Association, shouts slogans during a demonstration outside the Thai embassy as a security guard watches from inside in Washington, D.C., Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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A Uyghur demonstrator places a placard outside the Thai embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for the release of Uyghur refugees still remaining in Thai immigration detention centers in Thailand, on Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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Uyghurs demonstrate outside the Thai embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for the release of Uyghur refugees still remaining in Thai immigration detention centers in Thailand, on Friday, May 5, 2023. (RFA Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Raising her fist in the air, Zumretay Arkin shouted into a microphone on a quiet side street in Munich, Germany, outside the Thai consulate.

“Liberty for Uyghurs! We want freedom! We want justice! We want liberty! Release Uyghur detainees!” yelled Arkin, a Uyghur-Canadian, as a group of about 20 demonstrators – some holding the blue and white crescent-and-star flag of East Turkistan, the Uyghurs’ homeland in what is now Xinjiang, China – chanted the words back to her.

The protests came in response to the April death of Mettohti Metqurban, 40, a Uyghur refugee at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok, due to suspected liver failure. He was the fifth Uyghur to perish in the facility since 2018, and the second one to die this year.

Uyghur activists in Germany and in four U.S. cities gathered outside Thai consulates and embassies on Friday, demanding that the Southeast Asian government improve the condition of Uyghur refugees in detention in Thailand. 

The protesters also demanded that Thailand allow U.N. human rights officers to have access to them, and to release them and work with third countries to resettle and reunite the refugees with their families.

Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress leads a protest of Uyghur activists demanding the releases of Uyghur refugees held in a Thai immigration detention center, outside the Thai consulate in Munich, Germany, May 5, 2025. Credit: World Uyghur Congress
Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress leads a protest of Uyghur activists demanding the releases of Uyghur refugees held in a Thai immigration detention center, outside the Thai consulate in Munich, Germany, May 5, 2025. Credit: World Uyghur Congress

About 30 Uyghurs holding East Turkistan flags and placards also gathered outside the Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., demanding the release of the Uyghur refugees and handing security guards a letter addressed to the Thai ambassador.

Metqurban, also known as Mattohti Mattursun and Muhammad Tursun, was one of 350 Uyghur men, women, and children who fled China in 2014. He had been held at the Thai facility since March 2014 and was one of about 50 Uyghur men who remain in detention there.

“It is extremely distressing to receive the news of another death in the Thai IDC,” Arkin told Radio Free Asia, referring to Bangkok's Immigration Detention Center, notorious for its overcrowded and squalid conditions for inmates. 

“The Thai government has to improve the conditions of detention of Uyghur detainees,” she said. 

“We call on Thailand to immediately release the detainees to a safe third country and to give access to UNHCR,” Arkin said, referring to the U.N. refugee agency, or the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Thailand has not ratified the U.N.’s refugee convention. Uyghurs, considered a special group, are managed by national security agencies, and are prevented from registering for the refugee status determination process. 

'Improve their condition of detention'

Metqurban’s death has raised concern among members of the global Uyghur diaspora about the Thai government’s continued detention of Uyghur refugees in Bangkok. Rights organizations are demanding that the Thai government release and resettle the remaining detainees in a refugee-hospitable country.

Besides demanding the release of the remaining Uyghur refugees, the World Uyghur Congress, or WUC, called upon the Thai government to work closely with democratic countries to explore opportunities for all those detained to seek asylum.

“This recent death stirred the public opinion leading to the reporting of their case by mainstream media urging the Thai authorities to take action to safeguard their safety,” said WUC in a letter dated May 3 and addressed to the Thai consulate in Munich Germany. 

“We request the Thai Government to take immediate action to improve their condition of detention, to allow access to UNHCR officers or other independent bodies, and to release them to safe third countries,” the organization said.

The Uyghur American Association urged the Thai government to do the same.

“The detention of Uyghur refugees, especially with an ongoing genocide in their homeland, violates international human rights and core Thai values, especially those of morality, generosity, integrity and service of the common good,” said a letter the organization’s president, Elfidar Iltebir, sent to Tanee Sangrat, Thailand’s ambassador to the U.S.

The U.S. government and several Western parliaments have declared that the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic groups in Xinjiang, China’s far-western autonomous region that Uyghurs call East Turkistan, constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. 

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said in an exhaustive report last August that the detentions of Uyghurs and others in camps in the region may constitute crimes against humanity. 

“Despite these determinations, the Thai government continues to detain Uyghur refugees,” Iltebir said in his letter.

Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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