New research suggests China has built 380 detention camps in Xinjiang -- read details
According to the Australian study, detention camps in Xinjiang have expanded, despite claims that Uighurs were being released. In its analysis of the detention system in the region, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute divided the 380 facilities it detected via satellite into four tiers based on the level of security at the sites.
Despite official claims that all detainees have been released from the camps, a new research released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) suggests that China appears to be expanding its network of secret detention facilities for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
The study says that China has continued to build new detention centres in Xinjiang, with a focus on what the thinktank said were high-security "prison-style" facilities.
Researchers for ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre used satellite imagery to locate and identify a total of 380 "suspected detention facilities" in Xinjiang, where the United Nations says more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking residents have been held in recent years.
The information has been made public, including the coordinates for individual camps, in a database that can be accessed online, the Xinjiang Data Project. It includes details not only about the network of detention facilities – creating 3D animated models – but also the region’s cultural sites such as mosques.
PROJECT LAUNCH????— ASPI (@ASPI_org) September 24, 2020
Today ASPI launches 'The Xinjiang Data Project' mapping Xinjiang’s detention system with 380 sites of suspected re-education camps, detention centres and prisons that have been built or expanded since 2017. View the interactive map ➡️ https://t.co/iykruAT4PP pic.twitter.com/xpNphYlhwI
China has often claimed that these camps are vocational skills training centres and a necessary part of efforts to counter the threat of “extremism”. Beijing had said late last year that all detainees had "graduated" from the facilities.
But as per the thinktank, major detention camps are still in operation across Xinjiang and that the number of facilities is around 40 per cent higher than previous estimates.
“The findings of this research contradict Chinese officials’ claims that all “trainees” from so-called vocational skills training centres had “graduated” by late 2019,” lead researcher Nathan Ruser wrote. “Instead, available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities.”
The researchers used satellite imagery, witness accounts, media reports and official construction tender documents to classify the detention facilities into four tiers depending on the existence of security features such as high perimeter walls, watchtowers and internal fencing.
It found at least 61 detention sites had seen new construction and expansion work in the year to July 2020. Take a look at the tiers:
TIER 1 SITES: 108 IN DATASET
Suspected low-security re-education facilities: These are detention facilities that were created by adding fencing and other security features to existing buildings such as schools and hospitals when the crackdown began in 2017. Whilst many likely still house detainees, they are often directly connected to large factory facilities, suggesting an element of coerced labour, says the ASPI.
State media reports suggest that detainees in this tier of facilities have been allowed to visit their homes on weekends. Some have had walls lowered or murals painted, and recreational facilities. Camps toured by diplomats and journalists are typically within this tier.
TIER 2: 94 IN DATASET
These facilities have significantly more security than tier 1 including high barbed-wire fencing, a perimeter wall and watchtowers. However, they still have classrooms and external yards for detainees; and their purpose appears to be the eventual "rehabilitation" of detainees rather than indefinite imprisonment.
TIER 3: 72 IN DATASET
The only access to these high-security sites is typically through a well-guarded main gate and often a single bridge leading up to the perimeter wall and watchtowers. Many of these facilities have up to six layers of barbed wire fencing and perimeter walls. Administrative buildings are completely separate from detainee areas, in contrast with lower security facilities that have administrative buildings scattered between the dormitory and classroom buildings.
TIER 4: 107 IN DATASET
These prisons have high walls, multiple layers of perimeter barriers, watchtowers, dozens of cell blocks, no apparent outside exercise yards for detainees, single bridge entry for guards to the perimeter wall. These facilities are often co-located with other (lower security) detention facilities and likely still include convicted criminals from not only Xinjiang but other parts of China as well.
According to ASPI, 14 more facilities in Xinjiang remain under construction, while around 70 had fencing or perimeter walls removed, indicating their use had changed or they had been closed. It noted that more than 90 per cent of the sites were lower-tier security facilities.
The research found that most of the 14 facilities still under construction in 2020 were prisons, and around half of the 61 facilities that received recent construction work have been high-security camps. "Our satellite evidence showed … at least 60 camps saw construction, and at least 14 remain under construction as of the latest satellite imagery available," Ruser told the ABC.
Ruser said that many of the centres that had been expanded were higher security facilities, while others had been built close to industrial parks, suggesting those who had been charged might also have been sent to “walled factory compounds for forced labour assignments”.
Beijing recently published a white paper defending its policies in the semi-autonomous region, where it says training programmes, work schemes and better education mean life has improved.
Last year, a senior official claimed that most people held in camps had “returned to society”. However, China has not allowed journalists, human rights groups or diplomats independent access to the camps, and visitors to the region face heavy surveillance.
Most information about the camps, and a wider government campaign against Muslim minorities in the region, has come from survivors who have fled abroad, leaked Chinese government documents, and satellite images that have confirmed the location and existence of camps, according to a report by the Guardian.
People have been targeted for “offences” as trivial as owning a Quran, or abstaining from eating pork. Reported abuses include detailed arbitrary detentions, torture and medical neglect in the detention camps and coercive birth control.