Migrant saga shame

The poorly handled exodus of Turkic Uighur people in the past few days has made Thailand somewhat of a diplomatic punching bag. In one case, the country was even the victim of violence against its diplomatic mission in Istanbul. Without public notice, the government sent 172 Uighurs from a holding camp in Songkhla to Turkey, where they reportedly had families. Then, the second shoe dropped. Authorities sent 109 Uighurs to China against their will, setting off protests that were mostly understandable.

Protests now are pouring in from around the world. Condemnation has come from the United Nations, foreign governments and from civil society. As of now no nation or group has spoken up to support the country, leaving Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and assorted officials to scramble to their own defence. Gen Prayut claimed his government followed international practice in dealing with illegal migrants. But of course it did not. It was, after all, Gen Prayut who personally hosted an international conference to deal with the problem of Rohingya people in the open.

To the nation and to the world, it seems like Thailand once again has bent to the threats of China. It is also clear the expulsion is not possible without approval from the very top. A late Foreign Ministry statement yesterday said China had requested Thailand return the Uighurs to face criminal and terrorism charges. There is now no way to confirm this, since Thailand chose to force the Uighurs back to China in secret. If they already face criminal charges, of course, the alleged promise by China to treat them well is false. On the other hand, if China and Thailand had discussed such charges under normal international practice, a case for extradition could have been made.

The protests against the renditions to China are “mostly” understandable because one certainly was not. Such violence cannot be condoned. In Istanbul, a whipped-up mob attacked the office of the honorary consul-general in Turkey’s second city. Windows were smashed and documents were destroyed or stolen. Reports indicate police mollycoddled the mob, even allowing them to continue protests after stopping the attacks.

Prime Minister Prayut properly protested against this wanton violence. In contrast, the government immediately sent Special Branch police from the diplomatic protection branch to the Turkish embassy in case of any attempts to retaliate. There were none, but Turkey must be called to account, made to pay all damages, and ensure there will be no more such violence allowed.

Turkey cannot claim to be surprised. For weeks, protests have taken place in Turkey, mostly against China and its treatment of the Uighur communities during the current Ramadan fasting month. At least two previous acts of violence had occurred before the attack on the Thai diplomatic office.

Over many decades, authorities ironically have brought both high praise and strong criticism on the country over handling refugees and illegal migrants. There has long been a tolerance to welcome and temporarily house helpless people. There also have been times where this policy has been tragically reversed.

This week, Thailand split families and caused needless suffering. If Thai and Chinese officials had looked to their hearts, they would have seen that the Uighurs could have been sent on their way, and never affected the fates of those nations. The 50 remaining Uighurs must be treated more humanely.