Second Uyghur dies in detention, says rights group
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Second Uyghur dies in detention, says rights group

Thai immigration authorities urged to end long-term detention of asylum seekers

The immigration detention centre on Soi Suan Phlu in Bangkok is where many Uyghurs have been detained, some for years. (AFP File Photo)
The immigration detention centre on Soi Suan Phlu in Bangkok is where many Uyghurs have been detained, some for years. (AFP File Photo)

The death of a second Uyghur man who spent years in a Bangkok detention centre underscores the need for Thai authorities to end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Mattohti Mattursun, 40, died of liver failure on April 21 after being taken to hospital from the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre, according to a statement by the World Uyghur Congress. He had been detained for illegal entry since March 13, 2014. The whereabouts of his family is not known.

He was the second Uyghur to die this year in the notoriously overcrowded facility in central Bangkok. Aziz Abdullah, 49, died in February, reportedly of pneumonia.

The WUC said that Mattohti Mattursun (also known as Muhammad Tursun) was reportedly suffering from severe stomach pains and vomiting over the last few weeks. As his condition worsened, he was transferred to a hospital on April 21 and is believed to have died there shortly after arrival, it said. Thai authorities have yet to conform the death.

“How many more deaths will take place before Thai authorities act with humanity to release these innocent people who are merely seeking safe haven?” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“Uyghurs around the world are filled with anguish that these refugees have been left in misery for nine years and the world has not lifted a finger to rescue them.”

Elaine Pearson, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Thai authorities are putting people seeking refugee protection “at grave risk” by keeping them for years “in awful conditions” in immigration detention centres.

Mattohti Mattursun was among several groups of Uyghurs who fled persecution in China and arrived in Thailand in 2014, seeking to travel to Malaysia and on to a third country. In 2015, the Thai government forcibly sent back to China 109 Uyghur men and boys, who were never heard from again.

Another 170 Uyghur women and children were permitted to travel to Turkey, their original intended destination. Thailand has since detained the rest — about 50 men — in immigration detention centres, “where authorities treat them as illegal immigrants without any rights”, according to Human Rights Watch.

China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, where rights groups believe more than a million people have been held in a vast network of detention camps in recent years.

Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has never enacted a law to recognise refugee status and set out procedures to assess asylum claims.

Under Thai law, all migrants with irregular immigration status — including children, asylum seekers and refugees recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — can be arrested and detained for illegal entry.

Many immigration detention centres in Thailand are severely overcrowded, provide inadequate food, have poor ventilation and lack access to medical service and other basic necessities. Detainees are restricted to small cells resembling cages, where they barely have room to sit, much less sleep. Children are frequently incarcerated with adults, Human Rights Watch said.

“Given its own lack of asylum procedures, the Thai government should respect UNHCR-issued persons-of-concern documents and not detain people who have pending claims for international protection,” it said.

“In addition to ending the detention of asylum seekers, Thailand should adopt alternatives to detention that are being used effectively in other countries — such as open reception centres and conditional release programmes.”

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