China kept building new Uighur internment camps in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”) after claiming that detainees had ‘graduated,’ report says

The below article was published by Business Insider, Photo credit: ASPI

Mia Jankowicz Sep 24, 2020, 9:00 AM

UIghur Muslims map camps Xinjiang
A screenshot of an interactive map showing suspected detention camps in Xinjiang, China. 
  • China has continued to build suspected detainment camps for Uighur Muslims after claiming internationally that detainees have “graduated,” according to a new report.
  • Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) mapped 380 suspected camps that had been built or expanded since 2017.
  • China initially refused to acknowledge the existence of the camps but later said they were for the “re-education” of Uighurs and other ethnic groups.
  • In December 2019, Chinese officials claimed without evidence that all “trainees” had now “graduated” and were living a happy life. 
  • But the evidence gathered by ASPI suggests that detainees may be being moved to newly-built and higher-security facilities. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

China has continued to build suspected detention facilities in the western region of Xinjiang, despite officials’ claiming last year that all the camp’s “trainees” had “graduated” from its programs, according to a new report

Using satellite imagery, victim testimony, government reports and on-the-ground journalistic reports, researchers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) reported and mapped a total of 380 suspected facilities in the region that had been built or expanded since 2017.

They added that 61 sites were expanded between July 2019 and July 2020 alone — many to become more securitized — and 14 are still under construction as of July 2020.

The ASPI report is one of the most comprehensive mapping of such camps since the Chinese government began to detain members of the Uighur Muslim population of the state in 2017.

A previous analysis by the activist group the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement in November 2019 estimated that there were 391 suspected camps in existence.

‘Re-education’

China officially denied the existence of the camps up until 2018, but in October that year wrote “re-education centers” into law, framing them as facilities that tackle extremism through “thought transformation,” and “vocational training.”

Beijing has often claimed that it is preventing Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic group, from being influenced by religious radicalism or being affected by poverty.

Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region
A complex formally known as the “Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center” in Artux, Xinjiang. 

Researchers estimate that at least 1 million Uighurs have been detained in the camps.

In the face of China’s claims, victim testimonies have detailed physical and psychological torture in some of the camps, including being shackled to chairs, sleep deprivation and beatings.

Detainees have been forced to sing propaganda songs for their food and repeat lines in praise of Chinese premier Xi Jinping, one victim told the BBC’s “Newsnight.” The effects of the camps made detainees look as though they had “lost their memory,” he told the program.

Relatives living outside Xinjiang have been cut off from people in the region for fear of getting into trouble, with many exiled Uighurs previously telling Business Insider that they had been blocked by their family.

China says detainees have ‘graduated,’ but suspected camps seem to be growing

In December 2019, Xinjiang officials said without evidence that all “trainees” participating in its programs have “graduated” and are now “living a happy life.”

According to ASPI, 70 of the sites it had found — most of them lower-security facilities — appear to be being desecuritized, with the removal of fencing and perimeter walls. Eight may have been closed, the report said. 

But this doesn’t automatically mean the program is winding up, ASPI said. 

“Instead, available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory compounds for coerced labor assignments,” the researchers said.

Business Insider has contacted the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United Kingdom for comment on the ASPI report.

low-security site uighur muslims xinjiang
A 3D rendering of a suspected low-security site near Kashgar, Xinjiang. 

From low- to high-security sites 

The ASPI report defines four kinds of suspected internment camps, ranging from lower-security re-education camps to maximum security prisons. 

The report says that the suspected lower-security camps have had features like barbed wire removed — which had previously formed “tunnels” filtering detainees between buildings. 

Around half of the 14 new facilities currently under construction are high-security sites, “which may suggest a shift in usage from the lower-security, ‘re-education centers’ toward higher-security prison-style facilities,” the report said.

uighur muslims xinjian detainment camp
A view of a new suspected tier-four detainment camp in Kashgar, Xinjiang. 

The researchers noted that the evidence is not conclusive, but said that the desecuritization of some low-security camps matches survivors’ suggestion that those who have not shown satisfactory progress could have been transferred to the newly expanded higher security sites.

One brand-new site in Kashgar just opened in January, the report said, with 33-feet-high watchtowers and a 45-foot-high perimeter wall. The researchers estimate it can accommodate more than 10,000 people.