BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese state-run newspaper alleged Friday that Turkish agents are helping an illegal migration of ethnic Muslim Uighurs out of China by giving them Turkish documentation once they arrive in Southeast Asia.
The nationalist newspaper Global Times said Friday in an article that cites unidentified Public Security Ministry officials that a country has been issuing passports and proof of citizenship to Uighurs and emboldening them to illegally leave China. The article clearly was referring to Turkey, although it did not name the country specifically.
The newspaper didn’t name the officials, a routine practice in China, where state agencies often use the state media to release information.
The allegation came 10 days after Turkey accepted 173 Uighurs from refugee camps in Thailand. The Thai government had said those people were Turkish citizens, but it sent an additional 109 Uighurs back to China on Thursday saying they had only Chinese documentation.
China’s Foreign Ministry has said that some of those sent back are suspected criminals, and that they would be dealt with according to law. Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on Friday objected to what she said were “groundless” moves by some countries to portray those leaving China as refugees, saying they were illegal migrants.
Calls to China’s Public Security Ministry rang unanswered Friday.
The state-run newspaper said that “some country’s” embassy, consulates and agencies in Southeast Asia had colluded with illegal people-smuggling rings operated by Uighur exiles to issue documents to illegal migrants.
That country also had interfered with Chinese and Southeast Asian police, the newspaper said.
It said the people who flee China are often people from the far west Xinjiang region who want to go join overseas terror groups.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said Friday that Beijing has distorted the story and that the Uighurs are fleeing to escape systematic repression by Beijing. He said those sent back to China will most likely be severely persecuted.
Uighurs say they have chafed under religious and cultural restrictions by the Beijing government. An influx of the majority Han people in recent decades into their homeland of Xinjiang also has left the Uighurs economically marginalized and added to ethnic animosity.
That hostility has erupted into violent clashes, in which Uighurs have attacked government facilities and civilians. Beijing has labeled them terrorists influenced by extreme religious views and with overseas ties. China is waging a severe crackdown on terrorism in Xinjiang.
Hundreds of people have been killed over the past several years.
Turkey has ethnic and linguistic ties to the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs. Among the hundreds of Uighur refugees found in Thailand, many were women and children.
The U.N. refugee agency called Thailand’s action to send 109 Uighurs back to China this week “a flagrant violation of international law.”
The United States also condemned the deportations, and expressed worry about the protection of asylum-seekers in Thailand. Amnesty International said that the Muslim Uighurs could face detention or torture in China.