China builds nearly 400 camps for Muslim Uighur minority - report

2019 US government estimates placed the number of detainees at 3,000,000.

A man wears a mask as he walks past a mural showing a modified image of the Chinese Communist Party emblem in Shanghai, China after the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALY SONG)
A man wears a mask as he walks past a mural showing a modified image of the Chinese Communist Party emblem in Shanghai, China after the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, January 28, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALY SONG)
The Chinese authorities have established nearly 400 internment camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, home to its Muslim Uighur minority, The Guardian reported, citing an Australian thinktank.

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) cited by the media outlet, some 380 camps have been identified since 2017, including 14 that are still under construction. 

According to The Guardian, the number of detention centers in Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, reported by ASPI has increased by at least 100 compared to previous investigations.

"The evidence in this database shows that despite Chinese officials' claims about detainees graduating from the camps, significant investment in the construction of new detention facilities has continued throughout 2019 and 2020," ASPI researcher Nathan Ruser told The Guardian.

The report, alongside the camps' coordinates and satellite imagery of the centers, can be accessed through an online database called the Xinjiang Data Project.

Officially called Vocational Education and Training Centers, the Chinese authorities have been claiming the facilities are re-education camps established in order to counter terrorism and Islamist extremism.

"The findings of this research contradict Chinese officials' claims that all 'trainees' from so-called vocational training centers had 'graduated' by late 2019," Ruser said, according to the BBC.

"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."

According to the report cited by The Guardian, "camps are also often co-located with factory complexes, which can suggest the nature of a facility and highlight the direct pipeline between arbitrary detention in Xinjiang and forced labor."

With the largest facility in the region having 92 buildings with construction stretching over one kilometer (0.6 miles), perimeter walls have reportedly been removed in around 70 camps in the region.

According to the ASPI report cited by The Guardian, a new 60-acre detention center located on the historic Silk Road holds some 13 five-story buildings and is surrounded by 14-meter (46-foot) walls and watch towers.

In early July, the US Customs and Border Protection service reportedly seized 13 metric tons of human hair products shipped from China to the Port of New York and New Jersey, saying the products may have indicated "potential human right abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment."

Estimates made by former US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver in 2019 placed the number of detainees in China's internment camps around 3,000,000, according to Reuters.

In late July, Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming denied claims of human rights abuses, saying the Uighur population lives in "peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups."

A mass surveillance program conducted by the Chinese government has reportedly forced local families to have Han Chinese officials living in their homes as "relatives." A CCTV network covering the region has also been in place.

According to The Guardian, locals are targeted for offenses that include abstaining from eating pork or owning a Qur'an. Those detected committing the said offenses have reportedly been subjected to detentions, torture and coercive birth control.