Pandemic outbreak in the Uyghur region

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by H.M.Uyghur

Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim, majority are living ancestral Uyghur homeland, China calls it Xinjiang, which means new territory. Some Uyghurs prefer to use the term East Turkistan, and some other Uyghurs prefer to call their homeland simply as Uyghur.

The Chinese government has reportedly detained at least one to three million Uyghurs since April 2017 for concentration camps. the government claims that these are vocational training centers, but evidences says otherwise. The information on what happens inside the camps is limited, but many former detainees who have since fled describe inhuman conditions. People forced leaning of Mandarin, pledging loyalty to the communist party of China, renouncing Islam and christianity, singing praises for communism are routinely undertaken. And this is coupled with human rights uses is such as torture, sleep deprivation during interrogations, and sexual abuse, forced abortions and contraceptive device implantation for women. The concentration camp cells are overcrowded and unsanitary, as toilets consist of only a bucket and a lid.

China is hiding the real situation of COVID-19 pandemic in the so called Uyghur autonomous region, we’ve been trying to get some information about the pandemic, China draconian surveillance and control of communication of its people living in China with the outside world, especially in the Xinjiang, makes it difficult. The gruesome conditions, forced community activities makes the concentration camps fertile ground for a community wide outbreak of the disease.

There are serious questions on the availability of quarantine facilities, hospitals for treatment, nutrition and hygienic products for the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Besides, the children of detained people are forced to stay in state run orphanages, these are also vulnerable to a possible outbreak.

A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Initiative highlights that some detainees are made to work as forced laborers in the Chinese factories that are supply chains to globally renowned brands such as Apple and Nike. Uyghurs forcibly migrated to mainland China to be slave workers in Chinese factories are also vulnerable for the Chinese virus outbreak.

As people around the world gear up to face the acute respiratory illness COVID-19, many Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been expressing a deeper concern about their family and friends in Xinjiang, where information has a difficult time getting in and out. Chinese state media has consistently misrepresented and concealed the violence that Uyghurs and other ethnic groups, giving people no reason to believe they would tell the truth about the presence and effect of COVID-19 in their communities.

Recently I received a call, and being told my aunt Shazadigul Tomur was passed away in an accident in a factory, from that conversation I learned she was a forced labor in a cotton factory in Turpan. I wasn’t able to get more information about her death, it could be an accident, or disease.  The concentration camps, orphanages, forced labor of Uyghurs in other Chinese provinces actually create perfect conditions for the spread and escalation of the COVID-19. The grievous conditions in the concentration camps, lack of quarantine facilities and access to hospitals, inadequate nutrition and poor medical care will certainly guarantee a high death toll if the COVID-19 spreads.

According to our contacts in Xinjiang, the worst-hit areas are Urumqi, Turpan, Ghulja, Korla, and Kashgar. Since the one who conveyed the news to me was from Urumqi, during the time of the pandemic, he had hadn’t been to any of those places other than Urumqi, and he had heard from some people from those places. I contacted someone who had visited Korla, it was February, they were locked up in their home from outside, by the community servants and the police because they were visited Korla. This means that in February, Korla’s situation could be already worse. Community servants in Uyghur homeland actually works in similar way as was stasis in Eastern Germany.

Years before the pandemic, cities in the Uyghur region were governed as if they had been quarantined. The city of Turpan, where I was born and raised, the distance between Turpan and Urumqi is about a hundred kilometers, in between these two cities there are at least three major checkpoints. Even though, those without permission could not travel from one city to another. In so called Uyghur autonomous region, traveling from one city to another is at least ten times difficult than traveling to another country. Yet, since 2016 Uyghurs passports were all confiscated, Uyghurs can’t travel abroad. I understand it as China don’t allow Uyghurs have Chinese passport, which means, China is admitting Uyghurs are not Chinese.

Unfortunately, the lockdown doesn’t help Uyghurs prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, why, because they only controls Uyghurs from traveling, but Chinese could go anywhere without any restrictions. We see after the lockdown to Wuhan started, all the airline from Wuhan to other part of China has been cancelled, but airlines from Wuhan to Urumqi was continued for another day. There were some Douyin videos leaked the evidences that Chinese government actually resettled some people from Wuhan to Atush, a city located in south, predominantly Uyghur. Douyin is the Chinese version of tiktok, you can’t see those videos from Douyin, its public only within Chinese border, someone downloaded those videos and reuploaded to Facebook and YouTube, you could find those videos from twitter and Facebook account of some Uyghur activist and prominent Uyghur organizations.

The last call I received from Turpan, about death of my aunt Shazadigul Tomur, was told me that they believe pandemic is still spreading, but government released the restriction of quarantine, shops were open, factories were working, people are encouraged to go to markets. The person who called me is working for local administration, she was very upset, but she was worried to tell me more. She contacted me with a WeChat, I barely use, she was worried and scared. I didn’t contact her again for her security, she could face serious allegations and trial for leaking the information to regular person like me, who is not member of any political organizations, or any foreign government entity.

I have been connecting Uyghurs across the globe, new pandemic has caused a great deal of concern in the global Uyghur communities. Recently leaked documents are in fact confirms their fears that their friends and family members are being in great danger. Although there has not been evidence of the mass deaths we feared, but our family members and friends’ survival in our homeland still does not feel fully assured. Many remain unconvinced that the world will ever find out if Uyghurs did die in significant numbers. And it’s not secret Uyghurs worries because they fear that Chinese state authorities do not really care if Uyghurs live or die. And I believe what Chinese government committing here is an act of genocide.

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