SONGKLA – Thai police on Wednesday said ethnic Uygur Muslims from China who escaped an immigration detention center will not be deported – if they are recaptured – despite a request by Beijing.
The dramatic predawn jailbreak on Monday saw a group of 25 Uygurs use blankets to climb out of their cell in southern Thailand.
Five of them were arrested on Monday while one more was detained on Wednesday, Thai police said, with media reporting the escapee was found over the border in Malaysia.
The group were among hundreds of Uygurs, a Muslim minority that faces repression in western China, detained in 2014 in Thailand, sparking a tussle over their citizenship.
Uygurs intercepted in Thailand often say they are Turkish as Turkey shares ethnic links with them and accepts those who flee from China’s restive Xinjiang region. In 2015 Thailand deported 100 Uygurs to China.
On Tuesday, Beijing pressed Bangkok to send the escapees back to the mainland once they are caught.
But Thai authorities said they will not deport the group.
“We’re not sending them anywhere as they have to go through a nationality verification process, which is what we had been doing before the escape,” said Thailand’s deputy police spokesman Krissana Patanacharoen.
In August 2015 an unprecedented bomb attack on Bangkok’s Erawan shrine killed 20 people, mostly ethnic Chinese tourists.
Two Uygur men are facing trial for the bombing, seeding speculation that the attack was revenge for the deportation the previous month.
In an apparent coincidence on Wednesday, a Thai woman called Wanna Suansan was detained on arrival in Bangkok on a warrant linked to the shrine blast – making her only the third of 17 suspects named by police to be arrested.
She has been charged with attempted murder, associated murder and possession of bombs and weapons, said police officer Sombat Milintrajinda.
Wanna spoke to AFP at the time from the Turkish city of Kayseri and denied any wrongdoing.
Thailand does not grant asylum to refugees but has said Uygurs can remain in Thai custody until their citizenship is established, with some 61 currently in detention across the country.