More than 70 Uyghurs held in a Thai detention facility have gone on a hunger strike, telling RFA’s Uyghur Service in a handwritten letter that they would rather die in Thailand than go back to China.
“If we were returned back to China, we will face physical and emotional torture, and be killed or sentenced to stay in prison for life,” wrote the group calling itself For Freedom. “Therefore, we announced a hunger strike and thought it would be better to die from a hunger strike while in here. We will continue our hunger strike until we are freed or relocated to a third country or till we die here.”
The grim note also contained criticism of the Thai government and their keepers at the Thai immigration detention center, writing that they are treated as something less than human.
“Thailand did not give us to Turkey, and they did not treat us Uyghurs in detention as humans either. They inflicted profound suffering upon us,” For Freedom writes. “They separated us from our wives and children, parents, and siblings. Other countries did not help us at all.”
'We are not criminals'
One of the detainees who requested anonymity told RFA that they were only trying to escape to find a better life.
"We are not criminals," the person said. "We escaped from China’s layer upon layers of oppression to free our wives and children detained in the democratic country of Thailand. If Thailand is a democratic country, they should let us go to countries like Turkey."
"However, the Thai government still did not release us. It has been one year since more than 140 Uyghurs were forcefully deported back to China. We hope that we will not face the same fate as the last group, as they are facing torture and death in China."
Hundreds and possibly thousands of Uyghurs have fled unrest in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where hundreds of people have been killed in spates of violence in recent years. Many have made for Southeast Asia in hopes of reaching Turkey.
Many Uyghurs regard the Chinese as a colonizing power and refer privately to Xinjiang as “East Turkestan,” while a tiny minority are fighting for an independent state.
Uyghur ties with Turkey are both religious and ethnic. About 20 million Muslims live in China and many Uyghurs have already immigrated to Turkey.
Last year Thailand deported more than 100 Uyghurs back to China where their fate is uncertain.
The detained Uyghurs are hoping that their hunger strike will get the attention of other countries that might be willing to take them in, and have criticized the international community for turning a blind eye to their plight.
'Are we not humans at all?'
“We ask you, the world community, are we not humans at all? Why can’t you help us? Is it because you fear the tyrannical country of China? Is the power of democracy weaker than China’s communist law?”
Rukiye Turdush, managing director of the Diplomatic and Human Rights Office of Eastern Turkestan Government in Exile based in Canada, told RFA he was concerned for the Uyghurs’ safety.
“The Uyghurs in Thai deletion centers face an imminent danger of being deported back to China, like the other 109 Uyghurs last year at this time of year. I am really concerned about their situation right now as we have valid information that they have been beaten and systematically abused by the Thai police,” she said.
While he expressed his concern, he also expressed doubt that the Uyghurs in the detention center will go free anytime soon.
“We call on Thai police first to treat the Uyghur detainees with human dignity and release them to freedom or let them go to other free countries,” he said, adding that refugee organizations in Canada told him there was no room for new refugees.
“All of them said they have no space and they have long waiting lists,” he said. “There is a very high chance that the Thai government is not going to give exit visas to these people.”
Reported and translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.