KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities have detained 155 Uighurs, more than half of them children, who were found crammed into two apartments in the capital Kuala Lumpur, immigration officials said.
The Uighurs, a Muslim people from China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, were discovered when officers from Malaysia’s Immigration Department raided the residential units on Oct. 1 after receiving a tip-off.
Ninety people, including 44 children, were crammed into one unit, while the remaining 65 were in a second unit, according to a report from enforcement operations unit chief Basri Hassan.
“We had not expected to see so many of them in one unit,” said an immigration officer who took part of the raid, adding that the Uighurs were found in cramped and smelly conditions.
He added that the Uighurs were carrying Turkish passports that were suspected to be fake.
“We are trying to determine where they came from and where they are headed. As of now we are uncertain whether they entered the country illegally or through the proper channels.”
The Uighurs were transported to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) Immigration Detention Depot for further investigations.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, Thai police rescued about 200 people believed to be Muslim Uighurs from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand, fuelling evidence that human smugglers are still exploiting well-oiled networks to transport other nationalities in large numbers despite crackdown by authorities.
Xinjiang has been beset for years by violence that the government blames on Islamist militants or separatists who it says want an independent state called East Turkestan.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.
In 2009, Cambodia sent back to China a group of Uighurs who had tried to claim asylum, drawing a sharp rebuke from human rights groups.
Reporting By Anuradha Raghu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Kim Coghill