Dozens of Uyghur children from a mostly Uyghur-populated village in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) whose parents or guardians have been detained in “political re-education camps” have been sent to live in orphanages, according to sources.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
An officer at the Chinibagh village police station, in the seat of Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that local government officials were deciding the fates of children who had been left behind after their guardians had been sent for re-education.
“Children left without parents have been sent to orphanages temporarily until their parents are released,” said the officer, who is a resident of nearby Yengisheher village, where sources recently told RFA that around 40 percent of the more than 1,700 residents had been detained in re-education camps.
“The children are being placed in the Qaraqash township orphanage because they have no one to look after them. Their grandparents are too old [to take care of them] and are struggling to look after themselves.”
When asked how many children from Yengisheher village had been taken to the orphanage in Qaraqash, the officer said “roughly 50 to 60.”
In October, a Uyghur officer at a police station in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county told RFA that children whose guardians had been sent to camps there were also being sent to orphanages.
A Uyghur worker at a regional orphanage in southern Xinjiang, who requested anonymity, told RFA at the time that his facility was seriously overcrowded and described the conditions there as “terrible,” with children between the ages of six months and 12 years “locked up like farm animals in a shed.”
The worker said that while his orphanage received a lot of cash donations from the public, “only a very little is spent on the children,” and that the facility saved money by giving the kids meat only once a week, while the rest of the time they are provided with “rice soup.”
With all of the overcrowding at orphanages around the region, authorities “are moving children to mainland China,” he said, though he was unsure of where they were being sent.
He added that amid tightened restrictions in the XUAR, “it isn’t possible” for parents who have been released from re-education camps to look for their children in the orphanages.
China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.
Citing credible reports, lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said recently that as many as 500,000 to a million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, calling it ”the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, said the number “could be closer to 1.1 million, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region."
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.