Illegal Uighur Immigration in Southeast Asia

The movement of the Uighur population from their home province of Xinjiang in western China to Central Asia has long been a problem for Beijing. Strict security policies in Xinjiang motivate Uighurs to resettle outside of China. However, forced repatriation of Uighurs in Central Asia back to China is common. Larger groups of Uighurs are now moving south to countries like Thailand and Malaysia, exploiting their porous borders.

In March 2014, Thai authorities detained 424 illegal Muslim immigrants who initially claimed to be Turkish, but are now known to be Uighurs. The refugees were found in different parts of Thailand—in Sadao District, Songkhla Province bordering Malaysia, and Sa Kaeo Province bordering Cambodia. Around the same time, Malaysian border control authorities arrested 62 Uighurs trying to enter Malaysiaillegally from Thailand. Thai authorities believe these detainees are representative of a broader trend of Uighurs traveling through Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia to reach southern Thailand. From Thailand, they are allegedly smuggled into Malaysia in order to obtain false passports that allow them to journey to Turkey, which hosts a large Uighur diaspora, or other friendly countries.

Chinese authorities have officially requested that the Uighurs in Thailand be repatriated, citing concerns that they have ties with terrorist networks, are en route to participate in Syria’s civil war, or are seeking military training in Turkey. Human rights organizations andUighur diaspora associations dispute this narrative and cite the large number of women and children among the refugees as evidence that political asylum is their true motivation. At this point, it is unclear whether Thai authorities will deport the recently detained groups. Thai officials themselves appear divided over whether the Uighurs are emigrating for asylum or terrorist training.

This piece originally appeared at cogitAsia and is co-authored with Kyle V. Springer. Read the full article here.

Kendrick Kuo