Thailand’s prime minister defended on Thursday a decision to forcibly return nearly 100 Uighur Muslim migrants to China despite rights groups’ fears they could face ill-treatment, saying it was not Bangkok’s fault if they suffered problems.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also raised the possibility of shutting the Thai Embassy in Turkey after protesters attacked the honorary consulate in Istanbul, smashing windows and ransacking parts of the building, over the expulsion of the Uighurs back to China.
China’s treatment of its Turkic language-speaking Uighur minority is a sensitive issue in Turkey and has strained bilateral ties ahead of a planned visit to Beijing this month by President Tayyip Erdogan. Some Turks see themselves as sharing a common cultural and religious heritage with their Uighur “brothers” and Turkey is home to a large Uighur diaspora.
“I ask that we look after the safety of the embassy staff first,” Prayuth told reporters. “But if the situation gets worse then we might temporarily have to close the embassy in Turkey.”
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uighurs keen to escape unrest in China’s western Xinjiang region have traveled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey. China is home to about 20 million Muslims spread across its vast territory, only a portion of whom are Uighurs.