Uyghurs Deported to Other Provinces as Slave Laborers to Restart Economy

April 9, 2020 Updated: April 9, 2020

Reproduced from Bitter Winter: A magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China

TikTok and DouYin videos pouring out of Xinjiang during the past two weeks have confirmed fears that Beijing is using Uyghur and other Turkic youth as slave laborers and cannon fodder to kickstart the Chinese economy.

Given that the nation is only just getting back on its feet after months of lockdown, and experts still have yet to give the all clear regarding the virus, the clips showing hundreds of corona-masked Uyghurs being amassed at transport hubs around the region with marching orders to work in factories in inner China, are giving Uyghur activists deep concern.

The clips using the popular DouYin Chinese video sharing social networking site have been gathered by Australian-based Uyghur exile Alip Erkin who posts them on his Twitter feed “Uyghur Bulletin.” Despite a flurry of negative videos coming from the epicenter of Uyghur persecution last summer, which were all but quashed by the network’s creator Bytedance early this year, recent posts have managed to circumvent the firewall to bring the latest news to the outside world.

According to Radio Free Asia’s Alim Seytoff, the recorded mass movement of young people out of the province coincided with China’s widespread coronavirus lockdown, when other Chinese were forbidden to leave their homes. “These videos came out at the time when coronavirus was spreading in China and around the world, when most Chinese companies were shutting down and no-one was working,” he said. “And we only see the mass transfer of Uyghur laborers to other parts of China at this time.”

Some of the videos were Chinese government propaganda showing happy Uyghurs setting off to seek their fortunes, as part of its three-year “poverty alleviation drive” which aims to eradicate absolute impoverishment by 2020. One caption described 850 laborers from impoverished families in Hotan who were arriving by special train in Korla to work for six companies, including the Zhongtai textile group and the Litai Silk road company.

Seytoff pointed out that it was impossible to determine whether these gangs of young people were being forcibly or voluntarily relocated. Dissent in any event would be futile. “If they refuse, they fear that they will be put into camps,” he said, referring to the dreaded transformation through education camps and to the past three years of draconian measures to quell Uyghur culture, language and religion which has seen three million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim incarcerated without trial, ostensibly for “re-education.”

CHINA-XINJIANG- internment camps
A facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in Artux, north of Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region, on June 2, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

He added that all Uyghurs shown in the videos who had been rounded up, were wearing masks. “Clearly, coronavirus is a risk for them,” he said, adding that reliable sources had confirmed that many of those press-ganged were in fact camp detainees, “who were forced into labor in factories in mainland China.”

Musa Abdulehed ER, an Istanbul based writer/researcher, commenting on the exodus, questioned Beijing’s motives. “We have to ask whether money is more important than life to the Chinese government?” He said, concluding that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) actions in sending swathes of Uyghurs into the virus heartland, spoke volumes. “It is obvious that boosting the economy is more important than the lives of these young people, particularly at this time when Han Chinese are not working in the factories because of the virus,” he said, also noting that widespread mask wearing showed that health concerns were still real. “This is a clear indicator that the CCP are playing with the lives of Uyghur young people.”

He was left to infer that Beijing was indifferent to life. “The Chinese government clearly doesn’t care whether they live or die,” he said. “Never mind if they die, but let them die working,” he said cynically. “We can never accept this and protest most strongly,” he said, adding that finally the world is beginning to wake up to the evils of the CCP regime. “We have been warning for years that China will bring disaster upon mankind. And here in the virus we see the results.”

His greatest fear was that the young people were being taken out of Xinjiang with the express purpose that they might succumb to the virus and die. “I would not put it past the Chinese government to have this in its mind,” he said, citing the atrocities that have taken place in Xinjiang, particularly over the past three years. He demanded that the world at last take notice of the disaster that was being meted out on the Uyghur people and their culture, and exert pressure on the CCP to release detainees, stop the slave labor, and close the camps. “They should be allowed to live freely and live as human beings,” he pleaded.

By Ruth Ingram