XINJIANG, China — Since the mid-2018, countless reports of Muslim Uighurs, Turkic ethnicity who live in East and Central Asia, being held in concentration camps in China have surfaced in the international community. In August 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Council confronted China and demanded an answer to how many people were being detained in concentration camps in the town of Xinjiang. China repeatedly denied the allegations, claiming that no such camps exist.
The Chinese Concentration Camps
The Chinese concentration camps are an extension of existing efforts to contain cultural and religious attitudes that may pose a threat to unity. Arrests have increased by over 300 percent in the last five years, the majority of the increase being in 2017. Around 21 percent of arrests in 2017 have been made in the minority-heavy Xinjiang, where only 1.5 percent of the total country’s population lives.
Authorities have been tightening surveillance measures, interrogating family members and installing cameras in public spaces. Officers have the ability to arrest Uighurs and other minorities simply for engaging in religious or cultural activities like reading the Quran or praying in public. Others are arrested for wearing the Islamic head covering or for growing a beard. Although practicing Islam is not directly outlawed, it is highly restricted. The areas and times of prayer are limited and Muslims have to register and pray under surveillance. Anyone who questioned these rules was subject to arrest, or in the case of one family, to the installation of cameras inside one’s home.
Presentation in Public Eyes
The Chinese concentration camps are advertised as “re-education” or “vocational training centers” that aim to help Uighurs gain the skills necessary to enter today’s job market. However, the accounts of survivors paint a different picture. Camp detainees are forced into working in factories for low or possibly no wages. China has been giving companies incentives, like subsidies, to open factories around the camps and take advantage of cheap labor. Even after being freed, many survivors are sent to work in factories for years with no definite end.
The “re-education” aspect of the concentration camps focuses on removing Islamic sentiment and promoting allegiance to China. Many detainees are lectured on the negatives of Islam and were forced to renounce it. They are flooded with Chinese propaganda, from songs to lectures. Survivors also wrote “self-criticism” essays to further defame their cultural and religious beliefs.
The Effects of Chinese Concentration Camps
Families all over Xinjiang have been broken apart after multiple members were taken into the concentration camps. Arrested parents leave young children unattended and detainees rarely have the opportunity to visit their families. The searching and questioning process, where people are encouraged to report their own family members for suspicious activity, has led to many people disowning their relatives. For farmers, the division makes it difficult for them to complete harvests. Many have to rely on the help of volunteer groups to finish their work.
The outright violation of human rights has led to outcries, especially from Muslim groups. In Indonesia, hundreds of protestors stood outside the Chinese embassy and demanded answers and action. The issue persists, however, without any real information about how many people are being affected. Still, advocates are fighting hard to abolish these Chinese concentration camps and get justice for those wrongfully detained.
– Massarath Fatima