Uighurs Rescued From Human Smuggling Camp in Thailand
In the crackdown on a burgeoning trafficking network in Southeast Asia, police rescued about 200 people believed to be Muslim Uighurs from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand. The trafficking victims, possibly from China’s troubled far western region of Xinjiang brings the total number of people freed from human traffickers to over 800.
The suspected Uighurs were discovered on Wednesday night in a hilly rubber plantation in an area where the Reuters report identified at least three camps used by Rohingya smugglers last year. According to Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot the camp guards fled as the police approached,
Those rescued included at least 100 children, most of them toddlers or still breastfeeding, and a pregnant woman. They now sit on plastic mats in a parking lot at the regional immigration headquarters – the nearest police detention centre is too full of Rohingya and Bangladeshis to accommodate them. Police are saying that the group is claiming that they are Turkish, although they have no documents to prove that. The group in Hat Yai shows strong similarities to Turkic-speaking Uighur asylum-seekers who have been detained in Bangkok, the police sources say.
The raid is further evidence that the human smugglers in southern Thailand are exploiting the well oiled networks in order to transport other nationalities in large number despite the ongoing crackdown by the Thai police. Southern Thailand is already known as a notorious trafficking hub for Rohingya boat people from Myanmar. Thatchai, who has launched a series of raids on trafficking camps in southern Thailand, including the 200 rescued on Wednesday that, “the human smugglers are expanding their product range,”
In Washington, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stated, “We do welcome reports that a group of approximately 200 Uighurs were rescued by Thai police from a camp in which they were being held.” She added that they “are urging the Thai Government to provide full protection to the victims to ensure that their humanitarian needs are met, and continue to urge and encourage Thailand to conduct thorough investigations for signs of trafficking, including in cases with alleged government complicity.”
Based on the information provided in the Reuters investigation, two police raids in January, freed a total of 636 people. At least 200 of them were Bangladeshis – an “unprecedented” number, said Thatchai. The rest were Rohingya, mostly stateless Muslims from western Myanmar, where deadly clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless. Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar by boat, many of them coming ashore in southwest Thailand.