China has 380 “suspected detention centers” in Xinjiang (northwest), a network that has grown with the strengthening of security policy, according to a survey released Thursday by an Australian research institute.
Long hit by bloody attacks attributed to members of the Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, this immense semi-desert region has been the subject of a firm security takeover in the name of the fight against terrorism.
More than a million people, mainly Muslims, have been interned there in “camps”, accusing human rights organizations. China claims that these are “vocational training centers”, intended to help the population find employment and thus remove them from religious extremism.
The Institute for Strategic Policy (ASPI), a Canberra-based research firm created by the Australian government, says it has identified through satellite images, testimonials, press articles and public construction tenders “More than 380 suspected places of detention” in Xinjiang.
The researchers present these establishments, which have sometimes very different functions and sizes, such as “re-education camps”, “detention centers” or even “prisons”.
The figure represents an increase of about 40% from previous estimates and “at least 61 detention sites were the subject of new construction and expansion work between July 2019 and July 2020”, according to the study.
This information seems to contradict claims from China, according to which all those who have undergone “training” have “graduated” and left “vocational training centers”.
Asked Thursday at a regular press conference, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, categorically denied the existence of “detention camps” in Xinjiang and questioned the “credibility” of the ASPI.
The investigation was funded in part by grants from the US State Department, says the Australian research firm. Washington has been at the forefront in recent months to denounce Chinese policy in the region.
The US House of Representatives also passed a bill on Tuesday to ban most imports into the United States of products from Xinjiang, because of “forced labor” imposed on Uyghurs.
The latter constitute the main ethnic group in the territory. They are mostly Muslim and speak a Turkic language.
China praised its vocational training policy in Xinjiang in mid-September, with 1.29 million people trained each year on average in 2014-2019, which it said helped reduce unemployment and instability.
The authorities say no terrorist attack has hit the region for more than three years.