Tag Archives: refugees

Report: Thousands of Burmese refugees fleeing into China

Renewed fighting between the Burmese military and a guerrilla army in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan State erupted once again this week. The violence has caused civilian refugees — by some estimates more than 10,000 people — to flee across the border into rural areas in China’s Yunnan province.

Hostilities broke out on Monday in Kokang, a self-administered zone with a population estimated at 150,000. An article posted on Burmese news website The Irrawaddy reports fighting was most intense near the town of Laukkai, located on the Salween River — known in Chinese as theNujiang. Refugees were headed to the opposite side of the river to the village Nansan (南傘) in Lincang Prefecture.

The location of Myanmar’s Kokang region shown in green. Shan State in Yellow (Wikipedia)

The Burmese military attacked areas held by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the armed wing of the Kokang ethnic group — 90 percent of whom are of Han Chinese ancestry. Bombing has been concentrated nearby Laukkai using Russian-made jet fighters and helicopters during the day and artillery during the night, according to MNDAA general secretary Htun Myat Lin.

He also claimed the number of refugees fleeing into China was approaching 10,000 as of Tuesday, most of them Burmese villagers, with a small minority made up of Chinese merchants. Chinese media have so far not estimated the number of displaced but Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying was quoted by CCTV as saying:

China is concerned about the Myanmar situation. During the past two days, some Myanmar border residents, because of safety considerations, have entered China. They have been looked after. China will continue to pay close attention to how the situation develops, and maintain the peace and stability of the China-Myanmar border. We also believe that the Myanmar side should also work hard for this.

State-backed Burmese news outlets have yet to release reports regarding casualties from the fighting. No official reason has been given for the escalation in violence, although it seems likely the actions by the Burmese military are connected to December ambushes by Kokang guerrillas that killed at least seven soldiers and injured 20 others.

The current situation along the border closely mirrors a monthlong period in 2009 when an estimated 30,000 Burmese civilians from Kokang crossed into Yunnan in the wake of fighting. China dealt quietly with those displaced by fighting six years ago, instituting a near media blackout of its humanitarian actions.

This article was written by Patrick Scally and originally published on GoKunming on February 12, 2015 .

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Filed under China, Current Events, Myanmar/Burma, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

Terrorists or Refugees?: Case of ‘Uighur’ Migrants Unsolved in Thailand

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

In the past two weeks, close to 300 suspected Uighur migrants were discovered in the jungles of southern Thailand. Since their discovery and apprehension by Thai authorities, accusations of terrorism and rebuttals to these claims have flown.

Quoting an unnamed source attached with Thai police, the Bangkok Post published an article claiming that the migrants were indeed Uighurs. They intended to use Thailand as a transit point to go to Turkey, where they would be trained in terror tactics that could be used in their native China and elsewhere.

Recently, two groups of migrants have been found in the south of Thailand. The first, discovered March 12 at a rubber plantation near Songkhla, was a group of 219 people, containing dozens of women and children. Another group of 77 were arrested near a school in Sadao district on the 20th of March.

The same source alleged that the migrants were identified as Chinese Uighurs and not Turks, as they have claimed, by bus tickets and items that had Chinese writing on them. “Immigration police are not stupid,” the police source added.

Turkey has sent diplomats to southern Thailand to verify the migrants’ claims of Turkish nationality. The migrants were able to speak with diplomats when interviewed, however when met by an interpreter from the Thai Immigration Bureau they could not communicate well. “The interpreter believed they could not speak Turkish,” the source said.

A named source, Thai Immigration Bureau chief Lt. General Panu Kerdlarppol, refused to give any specific details regarding the migrants’ nationality or ethnicity. However, historically and geographically, it would make more sense that they were Uighur. Thai authorities have been aware of a Uighur migrant presence in the country since last year.

In December 2013, 112 refugees were arrested in the country’s south and are now being held at a detention center. Thirty of the migrants have so far been positively identified as Uighurs. Following the arrests, Lt. General Panu met with Chinese authorities in Kunming about the issue.

There are some, however, that dispute claims of the migrants’ nefarious motives. Speaking through the Phuket Wan Tourism News, the New York-based Human Rights Watch dismissed the accusations.

‘The groups in question are composed of significant numbers of small children, and more than a few pregnant women,” Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch, said today, ”so one wonders how unnamed police sources have suddenly somehow jumped to a conclusion that these people are ‘terrorists.”

Mr. Robertson links these claims of terrorism to Thailand’s treatment of asylum seekers in the past. Starting in 2009, hundreds of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar began regularly washing ashore on Thailand’s western coast. These refugees, fleeing ethnic violence in their home, were also labelled as terrorists. Oftentimes, they were pushed back out to sea by units of the Thai navy.

”It seems pretty clear that Thai officials have some ulterior motives in trying to tar this entire group with the ‘terrorist’ label,” Mr Robertson said.

He believes the end game is to deport the migrants to China, ”I suspect that such ‘terrorist’ accusations are a prelude to some Thai government officials trying to force these groups back to China in what would be a clear violation of international law,” Mr Robertson surmised.

Migrants claiming Turkish nationality were also arrested in Malaysia this month, though no further word on their situation has been released.

 

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Filed under China, Current Events, ethnic policy, Kunming Train Station Attack, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand

‘Uighur’ Refugees Arrested in Thailand, Malaysia: Part of a Larger Trend?

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Detained Uighurs in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Last week, East by Southeast, in a piece hypothesizing the motives of the Kunming train station attackers, made the connection between Uighur asylum seekers, Yunnan and Southeast Asia. In the analysis, ExSE posited that Thailand was a likely destination for Uighur refugees as they made their way from Xinjiang, through Yunnan and into Myanmar or Laos. This past week, two separate incidents in near the border of Thailand and Malaysia occurred that appear to confirm this hypothesis.

News was released on Thursday that Thai authorities had rescued 200 people from a human smuggling camp in the south of Thailand. During a raid on Wednesday, police discovered 200 people imprisoned in a camp suspected to be used for human trafficking.

The group, which includes 78 men, 60 women and 82 children, at first claimed to be Turkish, despite having no documents to confirm that. However, they have now been identified as ethnic Uighurs from China by a US-based organization.

With their identities confirmed, Thailand has faced calls to not to deport the refugees, with the US State Department also weighing in.

“We are concerned about Uighurs generally (and) welcome reports that these Uighurs were rescued,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday. “We’re encouraging Thailand to make sure their humanitarian needs are met.”

US-based Human Rights watch also urged the Thai government not to deport the refugees. “Thai authorities should realize that Uighurs forced back to China disappear into a black hole,” Brad Adams, the organization’s Asia director said in a statement.  “They need to allow all members of this group access to a fair process to determine their claims based on their merits, not on Beijing’s demands.”

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Refugees on the way to a Thai detention center

Despite these calls, dozens of the refugees were sentenced for illegal entry by a Thai court on Saturday, with each person assessed a fine of 4,000 baht ($124). For now, the men will be taken to an immigration detention center and the women and children will be taken to a shelter, according to Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot.

In a possibly related story, 62 people were arrested just across the border in Malaysia last week. Like the group caught in Thailand, the Malaysian also claimed to be Turkish refugees. The group of alleged Turks were found near the border fence during routine patrols early Thursday morning Deputy Superintendent Sivam of Malaysia’s General Operations Force said in a statement.

Despite their claims of Turkish nationality, those arrested were not carrying valid travel documents or identification papers and historically, there has been a small, if nonexistent presence of illegal Turkish immigrants in the region. In light of this and the arrests in Thailand, some in the media believe that the alleged Turks might in fact be Uighurs from China. If so, this would mark the largest number found in Southeast Asia to date.

If both groups arrested are indeed Uighur refugees, their escape to Southeast Asia wouldn’t be without precedent. Since Cambodia deported 20 Uighurs back to China in 2009, there have been a string of similar deportations in the region. In 2010, Lao PDR deported a group of seven Uighur refugees back to their native Xinjiang in northwest China and in 2011 and 2012, Malaysia deported separate groups of refugees to China. Each deportation case has been heavily criticized by rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Human rights groups fear that once repatriated, Uighurs face a grim future of long prison sentences and possible torture. Refugees deported back to China from places like Pakistan and Cambodia have all faced life prison terms upon their return.

The threat of prison is likely a reason why those arrested in Thailand and Malaysia have claimed to be Turks when discovered. Instead of admitting to Chinese nationality and facing the possibility of deportation back to China and likely prison time, the refugees opted for claiming another nationality. Seeing that the Uighur population is nearly all Muslim and speaks a Turkic language, claiming Turkish citizenship was a natural choice.

However, as is the case with both groups of refugees, these people’s true identities have yet to be discovered. If they aren’t Turks, are they really Uighurs? If they are Uighurs, how did they get to the Thai-Malaysian border and why did they come this far? Was Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country with labor shortages, the final destination? If both groups are indeed Uighur, this would mark a new level of southward migration for Uighur refugees. Might this also tie them to Kunming train station attackers, as East by Southeast hypothesized? For now, these are only questions, but ExSE will be searching for answers.

 

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Filed under China, Current Events, ethnic policy, Kunming Train Station Attack, Malaysia, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand, Uncategorized