COVID-19 outbreak in China shows ties with forced labour in Xinjiang

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 30, 2020, 09.28 AM(IST) Oct 30, 2020, 10.10 AM(IST)

Workers ride past the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Photograph:( Reuters )

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The authorities have claimed that the outbreak started from a 17-year-old girl who had eaten dinner with her parents at Shuchang and works at the factory

The Uighurs being subjected to atrocities in China's Xinjiang region has once again been highlighted as China's biggest and recent coronavirus outbreak has been linked to the camps in which the community is subjected to forced labour.

More than 180 coronavirus cases have been reported in the last week. All these cases have been recorded in Shufu county, in southern Xinjiang and have been traced to a factory which was established in 2018 as a part of the Chinese government's plan of "poverty alleviation".

As per the locals, the factory in question is a "satellite factory" that produces clothing, curtains and bedding and employs nearly 300 workers, out of which majority are women workers, working for a daily wage of maximum 90 yuan (about £10).

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“This is a village factory that is part of the scheme to put all adult Uighurs and related minorities into low-skilled factory work as part of poverty alleviation,” said Adrian Zenz, a researcher focused on Xinjiang who has analysed public documents and official language related to the programme.

This is not the first time the atrocities of the Chinese government have been highlighted. Earlier, too, experts and international organisations have criticised the "poverty alleviation" programmes, labelling them as 'coercive' and 'inhumane'. The Chinese government claims that under this scheme, Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region are provided with a work placement opportunity. However, the experts seem to believe that this 'opportunity' is mandatory and majorly forced labour, rather than an option.

“Clearly, ‘industry-based poverty alleviation’ is not voluntary but mandatory. Those who resist being ‘alleviated’ from their poverty are subjected to ideological education so that their thinking aligns with the state’s goals,” he said.

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In the recent case, the region has reported 183 coronavirus infections out of which 138 patients were asymptomatic and three have been reported to be in a critical situation and are undergoing treatment. The authorities have claimed that the outbreak started from a 17-year-old girl who had eaten dinner with her parents at Shuchang and works at the factory. The young girl, reportedly, belongs to a nearby village as returns home after every two weeks as she mainly resides in the factory dormitory.

China has time and again been criticised for its inhumane treatment of the Uighur residents in the Xinjiang region. The restrictive release of information has only raised concerns of the human rights activists, leading to many organisations cutting their ties from the production factories accused of indulging in forced labour. The activists have also urged international organisations to help the minority communities and had earlier, too, earned them of a 'wartime' situation in the region due to a possible outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.

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