China is trying to walk a line between quelling scattered outbreaks of coronavirus and restoring a semblance of day-to-day normality. But concerns are mounting over the possible impact of the virus on hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims, many of whom are being held in so-called “training and education” camps that United Nations experts say are in flagrant disregard of international human rights law.
Uighur rights activists, as well as the relatives of those interned in the western province of Xinjiang, say cramped, unhygienic conditions in the camps allow the untrammelled spread of coronavirus. As COVID-19 cases in China increased earlier this year they urged the World Health Organization to seek a fact-finding mission to the region. Beijing responded by downplaying the risks of coronavirus in the Muslim-majority province, saying that the vast majority of those in the camps had since “graduated” and been released.
As China tries to repair an economy dented by the coronavirus outbreak, Uighur rights advocates now say authorities are resuming job placements for Uighurs, moving them far from their families and homes. A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute alleges that authorities have transferred thousands of Uighurs to work in factories producing goods for some of the world’s biggest brands, while keeping them under close watch. Authorities in Xinjiang, as well as companies accused of benefiting from forced labour, say the report is a smear – highlighting the stark divisions over the treatment of Uighurs and the rights they hold in China.
On Monday’s episode of The Stream, we’ll be joined by Uighur voices to hear what’s at stake for the wider community as China focuses on its fight against coronavirus. Join the conversation.
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