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China expanding detention camp network in Xinjiang, researchers say

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (罗布泊/WikiCommons)
September 24, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

China’s network of detention centers in the northwest Xinjiang region is much more extended than previously thought and has been expanded in recent years, according to research unveiled by an Australian think tank.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said on September 24 the number of facilities where China is believed to have detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities is around 40 percent greater than previous estimates and the network has been growing despite China’s claims that many Uyghurs have been released.

Uyghurs are the largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs.

Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang have been subjected to the Chinese roundups and placed in concentration-camp-style facilities since 2017.

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Accounts have emerged of torture, rape, and other abuse in the camps.

ASPI said that by using satellite imagery, eyewitness accounts, media reports, and official construction-tender documents, it had identified more than 380 “suspected detention facilities” in Xinjiang.

“At least 61 detention sites have seen new construction and expansion work between July 2019 and July 2020,” ASPI said, adding that 14 more facilities were under construction in 2020.

ASPI has divided the 380 facilities in four tiers based on the level of security at the sites.

Tier 1 and 2 facilities are less secure and appear to be mostly focused on political reeducation, as opposed to some of the more prison-like facilities in the higher 3 and 4 tiers.

Around 70 Tier 1 and 2 facilities have had fencing or perimeter walls removed, indicating their use has changed or they have been closed, the Australian researchers said. However, “prison-style” Tier 3 and 4 facilities have undergone significant new construction and expansion, ASPI said.

U.S. lawmakers recently voted to ban imports from Xinjiang, citing the alleged use of systematic forced labor.

In a recent white paper, China defended its policies in Xinjiang, where it says training programs, work schemes, and better education mean life has improved.

It has defended the so-called training centers as necessary to stamp out extremism.