The 52 male Uighurs still in Thailand stand a good chance of being deported to Turkey, subject to verification of their nationality and checks on their records, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Monday.
"Both Turkey and China have asked us to send the Uighurs to them, so we have to verify their nationalities and whether they were involved in any wrongdoing. If innocent, they will be deported to Turkey," Gen Prayut said after chairing a National Security Council (NSC) meeting.
The premier said NSC chief Anusit Kunakorn will lead a Thai delegation to China from tomorrow until Friday to check on the fate of 109 Uighurs deported to China from Thailand last week. They were sent back sparking outrage from the international community, due to China's poor human rights record.
- Fairly speaking: Rights record in shambles
Mr Anusit said his team will check on how Chinese authorities treat the Uighur. "I want to insist Thailand did not derive benefit from the deportation. We have to ask China to help explain the checks and procedures which we undertook before they were deported," he said.
The NSC chief said Turkey should also explain why it wanted the 180 Uighurs back - including eight sent back on Saturday - to show that the Thai government did not stand to gain there either. As around 150 Uighurs fled Thai shelters last year, the number of Uighur migrants in detention fell to 341. Of them, 180 have been deported to Turkey and 109 to China.
Meanwhile, a former Thai diplomat who declined to be named said the Uighur issue has put Thailand in a difficult position, even though the nationality and record checks were conducted in line with international norms. "Thailand is in the difficult situation because we acted on a request by the Chinese government, and the issue was being watched by the Muslim world," the former diplomat said.
The government decided likely hostile reaction to the deportation was less important than the possible trade sanctions Thailand could suffer if the government knocked back China's request, he said.
It also went ahead with the deportation knowing that China could take an "uncompromising'' position towards the minority group. "We have seen how Chinese government dealt with minorities such as the dissidents in Hong Kong. They did not yield."
The Thai embassy in Turkey's capital, Ankara, said Monday its Istanbul consulate was still closed after Turks attacked it in protest against Thai government's repatriation of the Uighurs to China last week.