THREE nations were seeking to resolve the future of the mysterious group today with Thailand's Deputy PM Pongthep Thepkanchana visiting, the Chinese consul-general deeply involved and a senior Turkish official due in Had Yai this evening.
PHUKET: The children cried, and the women tried to quieten them as a standoff - or rather, a sitin protest - continued between a group of mysterious immigrants and Thai Immigration officers.
Mostly women and children, the group spent the night under a car park tin roof at Had Yai Immigration HQ and refused offers for the families to be allowed to go inside.
Defying the hot Thai sun, the mysterious group, found in a rubber plantation on Wednesday night, declined to budge despite the obvious difficulty in keeping the children still and quiet.
One man who said his name was 'Baburt' spoke Turkish to a translator and Turkey is where the group would like to go, it appears.
But the Thai Immigration officials believe that the group are members of China's Uighur ethnic group from Xinjiang province. Apparently the group has strong connections with people of similar background in Turkey.
Thailand Immigration Division 6 Commander Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot was trying tob establish communication with the group. But apart from the spokesperson, who spoke Turkish, the rest of the men, women and children were under orders to say nothing.
As a result, how the families found their way into the Thai rubber plantation, in a district where officials usually encounter secret jungle camps for Rohingya, remain unknown.
Where did they aim to go? The group weren't saying today. And so the sit-in became a standoff. As well as attempting to talk to the travellers in Turkish, China's consul general was called in.
If the group is Uighur, it may be they will have to be returned to China. And it could be that they do not wish to return.
Human Rights Watch spokesperson Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, said: "Uighurs face a gauntlet of oppression and abuses in China and when they try to flee overseas, Beijing often pursues them relentlessly.
''Over the past few years, there have been several serious incidents in Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand where China has used its influence to demand Uighur refugees and asylum seekers be returned against their will to China.
''This group now faces the same potential risk, and this is why it is critically important for Thailand to permit the UNHCR to have full access to this group so that any of them who wish to make an asylum claim and seek protection as a refugee can do so.
''Other governments, like the US and the EU, should press the Thai government to ensure that refugee protections are fully upheld for this group.''
Representatives of the Turkish Embassy in Bangkok were due in Had Yai this afternoon.
The question that the appearance of the group raises, whether they come from China or Turkey, is how they managed to make their way to Thailand and who helped them to get there.