Editorial Notes

Is human trafficking really to blame for Bangkok blast?

A Bangkok blast suspect pointing during a crime re-enactment near the bomb site at Erawan Shrine on Sept 9, 2015.
A Bangkok blast suspect pointing during a crime re-enactment near the bomb site at Erawan Shrine on Sept 9, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Sept 17, 2015, The Nation argues that Thailand has long been a haven for refugees and there are deeper issues that lie at the heart of the Uighurs' presence in the country

Police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung says a people-trafficking network that "moved Uighurs from one place to another" perpetrated the Aug 17 terrorist attack in Bangkok that killed 20 people and injured 130, many of them Chinese tourists.

Somyot explained that the traffickers were angered because Thai authorities had dismantled their network and had sought "revenge" for the forced repatriation of 109 Uighurs to China in July.

If the claim is true, then the Ratchaprasong attack would be the first Uighur terrorist attack outside China.

This would mean that Chinese tourists - of whom more than a million visit Thailand each year - are no longer safe either here or in any destination to which they travel in large numbers.

Somyot delivered the news at a press conference that was meant to show the police are making good progress on the bombing case. And indeed, arrest warrants for the suspects have been issued along with sketches to aid identification. But less reassuring are seemingly premature conclusions being made by the government and the police.

With the investigation far from over, the authorities should instead be dealing solely with facts. By focusing on the trafficking angle, our security agencies appear to be overlooking other important issues, chief among them the gross rights violations occurring in the Muslim-Uighur's homeland of Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities are cracking down.

Thai authorities risk being perceived as instruments of China in this case. Bangkok's credulity suffered in July when - after Beijing promised to treat the deported Uighurs in a humanitarian manner - photos emerged of Chinese security officials dragging the hooded deportees onto a plane.

The forced repatriation drew an international outcry, and foreigners might now believe that Thai authorities are deliberately blurring the line between people smuggled as illegal migrants and refugees fleeing persecution.

Maybe the Thai police are unaware of what China is doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang. If so, they need to broaden their knowledge beyond our borders. They could even take into account modern Thai history to understand that this country has long been a haven for people fleeing political persecution in the region.

Over the decades refugees fleeing Myanmar's conflicts and those escaping the fallout of war in Indochina have found safety in Thailand.

While the state has provided shelter in the form of refugee camps and other aid, there were other incursions to which it merely chose to turn a blind eye, including the coming and going of Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger leaders like Selvarasa Padmanathan. We also turn a blind eye, for humanitarian reasons, to North Korean defectors.

The Uighurs of Xinjiang are merely the latest in a long line of migrants to have sought safe haven in or passage through Thailand.

But with the recent international outcry over slave labour in Thailand's fishing industry, "human trafficking" has become a convenient tag for the police in their dealings with the Uighurs. However, it will take far more than expedient slogans to reassure the public that the police are responding in an efficient and competent manner.