China and the Uighur People
For this edition of ‘Tuesday Newsday’ we turn to China and the Uighur people. Let’s first take a little look on who the Uighur people are. The Uighurs are an ethnic minority group of Muslims living in China’s north-west region of Xinjiang. China is facing criticism following claims of forced labour camps and mass sterilisation of the Uighur population. There is a lot of evidence that up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in “re-education” detention centres in Xinjiang. But Beijing has denied these allegations and claims that the camps are ‘vocational training centres’. As a result of this inhumane treatment, tens of thousands of Uighurs have fled China in recent years.
This long read from the Guardian paints a good (but horrific) picture of what is happening inside the ‘re-education’ camps in Xinjiang. It tells a story about a woman, who after living in France for 10 years, returns to Xinjiang to sign some papers. She gets taken to an ‘education’ camp, where the purpose is to ‘correct’ Uighurs. The conditions are horrible, no furniture, no mattresses, no sink or toilet paper and the guards keep an eye on the Uighurs at every moment to make sure they are not talking or praying. The woman tells about the re-education where they have to recite a pledge of allegiance to China and are taught ‘how to be Chinese’. She also points to how they are being sterilised so that the Uighurs will slowly disappear as a population.
This article tells about how the Uighurs are not only being ‘re-educated’ but also forced into labour, especially in cotton fields and textile factories in Xinjiang. This work is supposed to transform the ‘outdated ideas’ of Xinjiang’s minorities and remake them as modern, secular, wage-earning Chinese citizens. Products, like wigs, face masks, apparel and electronics, are produced by Uighur forced labour and make their way into the rest of the world. In the US the House passed the Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act in September 2020, which bans goods made in Xinjiang using forced labour, imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities who engage in forced labour, and requires companies to disclose information related to Xinjiang. But as pointed out in this article, without meaningful and extraordinary action from U.S. companies, these products will continue to reach American households. It has been found that dozens of Chinese and international companies — including American brands like Dell, Nike and Heinz — either directly employ or source from businesses that use Uighur forced labour. Now companies like Nike and Coca-Cola have promised to root out forced labour in their supply chains by conducting third-party audits. But the article notes that such measures are insufficient. U.S. companies must actively and independently look for potential indicators of forced labour in the supply chains.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) a big-data program is used to select Muslims for detention, flagging behaviour such as wearing a veil, studying the Quran or going on the Haji pilgrimage as reasons for arrest. The programme also flagged people for their relationships, their communications, their travel histories, or for being related to someone the authorities consider suspicious. The article tells about a woman who was detained for “links to sensitive countries”. The woman had received four calls from a foreign number in March 2017, which HRW found belonged to the woman’s sister. The woman is now believed to be forced into labour in a factory five days a week and only allowed to go home on weekends.
Mike Pompeo, former US Secretary of State, said that China has committed genocide in its repression of Uighurs and other mainly Muslim people. Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for Secretary of state, has agreed with this. China reacted angrily to this, dismissing the statement as “outrageous lies”. The article reflects on the Biden administration and how it will act towards China’s treatment of the Uighurs. After referring to the suppression of Uighurs as genocide, the administration will be compelled to announce a concrete policy position on Xinjiang. This also comes after the former Trump administration banned imports of cotton and tomato products from the Xinjiang region.
The capital of Turkey, Ankara, has long welcomed Uighur Muslims fleeing China and an estimated 50,000 Uighurs are refugees in Turkey. But rights groups fear that an extradition treaty will endanger them. If it is adopted by Ankara, China’s extradition treaty with Turkey is feared to endanger Uighur families and activists who are fleeing persecution by Chinese authorities. A spokesperson for China Human Rights Defenders said the treaty would expose Uighurs to a higher risk of being returned to China, where they could face detention and torture, and he warned Turkey of its international obligations of non-refoulement. In recent years Ankara has grown closer to Beijing and increased assistance in apprehending or interrogating Uighurs who Chinese authorities have accused of terrorism. Turkey refuses to return Uighurs to China directly, but they have been accused of sending them to a third country, like Tajikistan, where extradition to China is easier.
This is an older article from August 2020. It points towards the UK and its role in protecting Uighurs arriving in the country. A cross-party group of MPs and peers wrote to the home secretary demanding that Uighur people fleeing China and seeking asylum in the UK are automatically granted refugee status. The UK government assesses all asylum claims on merits. Uighurs are currently required to prove they are at risk of serious harm in their native country. The Lib Dems’ foreign affairs spokesperson said: “Uighur people seeking refuge in the UK should not have to prove their case — the evidence is now in plain sight. The home secretary must take steps to grant automatically refugee status to all Uighur people fleeing this brutal crackdown on their rights.” In 2019 the government of Sweden announced it would grant refugee status to all Uighur asylum seekers, prompting calls for other governments to follow suit.
Thank you for reading this week’s report! If you would like to help support the Uighurs, please sign the petition here (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/549020), to request the government work with other nations to pressure China over their treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Written by Caroline Kjærgaard. Edited by Maya Thanky.