Thai authorities have detained more than 200 ethnic Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang region after officials raided a secret camp on a plantation in Songkhla province, where the group was waiting to be trafficked to Malaysia.
Following the raid, Thai officials notified the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok, who is in the process of intervening in the case, reports Radio Free Asia.
Members from the group apparently claimed they were Turkish in order to prevent being deported back to Xinjiang, and have refused to cooperate with Chinese officials. According to RFA, they were headed to Malaysia where they hoped to apply for political asylum.
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The Uighurs are a Muslim, Turkic people living mostly in China’s far western Xinjiang autonomous region, where they number some 10 million.
The group has long maintained that they have faced decades of political and cultural oppression since falling under Chinese governance following the advent of Communist rule in 1949.
One of the longest-held grievances in Xinjiang among Uighurs has been the large-scale migration of Han settlers into the region. According to official statistics, indigenous Uighurs represent 45% of the province’s total population, making them a minority in their own land.
Many of the Han living in Xinjiang work in construction or state-owned extraction industries in the resource-rich region and hold a large majority of the official positions.
Earlier this month, extremist Uighur separatists were accused of orchestrating a savage attack on bystanders at Kunming railway station in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, which killed 29 people and left more than 130 injured.