Are the Muslim illegal immigrants in Songkhla Uyghur people?
Over two weeks since the roundup of a group of some 200 illegal immigrants of unknown nationality at a rubber plantation in Tambon Kamphaengpetch, Rattapoom district of Songkhla province, immigration police are still trying to determine their nationality and where they came from.
On Wednesday March 26 Pol Maj-Gen Tatchai Pitanilabutr, commander of the 6th division of Immigration Bureau, said that the immigrants were people of Anatolia race which is the oldest race in Turkey.
But their nationality is yet to be determined with the help of the Turkish embassy in Bangkok, he said, adding that once their nationality can be determined, they will be sent home and if they refuse the immigration bureau will seek help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to look after them.
It was however reliably reported that the group had paid altogether about 50 million baht to a human trafficking gang to smuggle them into Thailand. Some members of the gang have been arrested.
According to police information, there are three human trafficking gangs in Satun, Ranong and Songkhla provinces. The Satun gang is reportedly led by a local politician while the Songkhla gang is infamous for their brutality with reports of torture, assault and abduction of the victims.
Pol Maj-Gen Tatchai said that warrants have been issued for the arrest of two alleged members of the gang in Songkhla namely Sulaiman Mad-ada and Yagob Himhem, both residents of Tambon Kamphaengpetch in Rattapoom district.
Tatchai brought a group of male immigrants who have been detained at a detention centre in Sadao district to see their families who have been separately detained at an office of the Social Development and Welfare Department for a reunion for about two hours. The two groups were however very happy to see each other after over two weeks of separation.
But Tatchai’s statement about this particular group of illegal immigrants still has not cleared up the question about their origin. The word Anotalia referred to by the immigration police commander is an ancient land which is part of Asia Minor which is now covered by Turkey.
An article, entitled "The riot of the Uyghur people", by Than Khun Noi which appeared in Post Today website five years ago explained that Uyghur is a Turkish word meaning the helper or ally. The word dated back hundreds of years ago when nine Turkish tribes which scattered in the Altai mountain range united together to form their homeland where the Uyghur are living today. These people originally subscribed to Soroaster religion but with the arrival of Islamic influence during the 11th century, they soon converted to Islam.
Than Khun Noi’s article said that the territory of the Uyghur people was eventually occupied by the Chinese but the Uyghur people always tried to separate from the Chinese occupation. In 1933, the Chinese government then allowed the Uyghur people to form an autonomous state called Islam Eastern Turkestan Republic.
The autonomous state was short-lived however. In 1949 it was incorporated into China by the Chinese Communists led by Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Yet, the Uyghur people have since resisted Chinese occupation and they formed liberation organizations known as the ETLO and ETIM.
Given the historical background, it could be said that the Uyghur people could not be separated from the Turkish tribe. The claim by the immigration police chief that the group of illegal immigrants rounded up in Songkhla were not Uyghur people rings hollow.
Meanwhile, security sources said that the group was likely to be Uyghur people from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. Their presence in southern Thailand has become a sensitive issue that the US State Department issued a statement urging the Thai government to take care with the group.
Also, Human Rights Watch has urged the Thai government not to deport the group back to China claiming that they could be persecuted.