China has been in the line of fire of the U.S. and several European nations for its alleged and blatant violations of human rights in its territory. Recently, a new report by Human Rights Watch suggests that Uyghur children, separated from their parents, are being kept in “welfare schools” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). These are actually disguised detention camps, according to the report.
China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
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Human rights groups believe China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps,” and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.
There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labor and of women being forcibly sterilized. Some former camp detainees have also alleged they were tortured and sexually abused.
The U.S. is among several countries to have accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang. The leading human rights groups Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have published reports accusing China of crimes against humanity.
Uyghur children held in ‘welfare schools’
Approximately 80 percent of the Uyghur children kept confined in the Xinjiang region have at least one parent in custody. Children of parents in detention are being made to attend separate “welfare schools.” These children are being kept under strict surveillance by the authorities.
The situation was revealed by researcher Adrian Zenz, an independent German researcher. The children of detainees can sometimes have a video chat with their parents, but they are still kept under strict monitoring.
Omer Hemdulla, a Uyghur hailing from XUAR and now living in Turkey, recently took part in protests outside the Istanbul-based Chinese embassy. Two of his children cannot be traced and he, much like many other Uyghur parents, is worried.
His Uyghur children were very young when he was compelled to leave for Turkey, the country where many Uyghurs migrated from the Chinese mainland. He lamented, “After they took my in-laws in, our communication was essentially cut off. I have been unable to obtain any information about where my daughters are.”
Amnesty International spoke to several Uyghur couples who were able to flee Xinjiang before 2018, including Ablikim Memtinin and Mihriban Kader. The couple fled to Italy in 2016 after authorities tried to confiscate their passports. They were compelled to leave four children in the care of their grandparents, who were later detained.
Mihriban told Amnesty International: “Our other relatives didn’t dare to look after my children after what had happened to my parents. They were afraid that they would be sent to camps, too.”
Mihriban and Ablikim managed to obtain a work permit from the Italian government, but sadly, the children were apprehended by Chinese authorities while in transit. They were eventually sent to a state-run orphanage. Mihriban lamented: “Now my children are in the hands of the Chinese government and I am not sure I will be able to meet them again in my lifetime.”
Omer and Meryem Faruh suffered a similar fate. They fled to Turkey in 2016, leaving their two children with grandparents. They later found out that their parents were imprisoned and they have no idea the whereabouts of their children.
Amnesty International has called upon China to give it and other top international human rights agencies full access to Xinjiang. Amnesty International’s China researcher Alkan Akad said: “China’s ruthless mass detention campaign in Xinjiang has put separated families in an impossible situation: children are not allowed to leave, but their parents face persecution and arbitrary detention if they attempt to return home to care for them.”