China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak in Muslim-dominant Xinjiang is traced back to a garment factory ‘linked to forced labour’
- The wave in Kashgar is connected to a state-run village factory, a report said
- It is said to be set up under a government-led ‘poverty alleviation’ programme
- International experts claim the scheme is ‘coercive’ and involves force labour
- China has been heavily criticised over its policies against Uighurs in Xinjiang
China’s latest coronavirus outbreak in Xinjiang has been traced back to a garment factory run under a state-led scheme believed to be linked to forced labour.
The new wave in the Muslim-dominant province is connected to a small garment factory set up by the government to lift locals out of poverty, according to an investigative report.
International experts have described the controversial ‘poverty alleviation’ programme as ‘coercive’ and claimed that it often involves forced labour.
A report has revealed China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak in Xinjiang is connected to a garment factory run under the nation’s ‘poverty alleviation’ programme. Pictured, residents at the Kashgar city vocational educational training centre attend a sewing class on January 4, 2019
International experts have described the state-sponsored labour scheme as ‘coercive’. Pictured, Uighur women weave carpets in the Hetian Carpet Factory on September 4, 2007
Officials in the Xinjiang say they believe they have contained the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak.
Xinjiang reported 23 new confirmed cases on Thursday, all involving people who had initially tested positive but displayed no symptoms.
It was the second consecutive day in which newly confirmed cases emerged entirely among such people.
Officials say that development appears to show new infections have been curbed in Kashgar prefecture, where the outbreak appeared on Saturday.
They say all the cases seem to be linked to a garment factory that employs 252 people and has since being sealed off.
More than 4.7million people in Kashgar have been tested for the virus.
The outbreak emerged on Saturday in Kashgar Prefecture, a mostly Uighur-inhabited region. More than 180 people have tested positive.
According to an in-depth report published by Chinese news site Caixin on Tuesday, the virus broke out in the state-run clothes factory in Shufu County’s Zhanmin Township outside of the city of Kashgar.
The factory is ‘densely packed’ with most of its employees coming from nearby villages, locals told Caixin, an independent financial news organisation.
Two of the factory workers who were struck down by the virus are the parents of the ‘patient zero’ in this wave of infections, a 17-year-old girl.
The disease began to spread among their colleagues after their daughter had come back three times to their home in the Number Three Village of Zhanmin, the Xinjiang government said on Sunday.
The teenager works in a different garment factory and lives in the neighbouring Number Two Village of Zhanmin, the Xinjiang government reported on Saturday.
Her infection was detected during a regular COVID-19 test and she did not display any symptoms, according to a statement.
Although Xinjiang official had identified the source of the outbreak as a garment factory in Zhanmin Township, it was Caixin’s article that revealed the factory’s link to the government’s contentious ‘poverty alleviation’ project.
More than 180 people have tested positive in the wave of infections in Xinjiang since Saturday
Experts have pointed out that the state-run programme could make people work against their will.
Commenting on Caixin’s report, Adrian Zenz, a German researcher specialising in China’s minority policies, said the scheme put ‘all adult Uighurs and related minorities into low-skilled factory work’.
He told The Guardian that ”industry-based poverty alleviation’ is not voluntary but mandatory’.
He added that those who refuse to be ‘alleviated’ could face ‘ideological education so that their thinking aligns with the state’s goals’.
An investigation by the New York Times in August revealed that China was rushing to meet the global demand for PPE during the pandemic by using Uighur labour through the labour-transfer programme.
Amy K. Lehr, the director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times that the programme had ‘coercive quotas that cause people to be put into factory work when they don’t want to be.’
‘And that could be considered forced labor under international law,’ she stated.
China was forcing Uighur workers to mass produce face masks as part of the country’s Muslim ‘re-education’ programme during the coronavirus pandemic, a report said in August. The file picture taken on June 18 shows workers at a garment factory in Aketao county of Xinjiang
China has been heavily criticised by other countries and NGO groups over its policies against Muslims and other religious groups, including alleged sterilisation programmes, forced labour and ‘re-education’ camps.
UN experts and activists have claimed that at least one million ethnic Uighurs have been held in the detention centres in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region with a large population of the Muslim ethnic minority.
Former detainees claimed that Muslims were forced to eat pork and speak Mandarin in those internment camps.
After initially denying their existence, China acknowledged that it had opened ‘vocational education centres’ in Xinjiang aimed at preventing extremism by teaching Mandarin and job skills.
This photo taken on June 2, 201,9 shows a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained in Artux, north of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang
China has repeatedly rejected criticism against its religious policy.
In July, China’s ambassador to the UK insisted Uighur Muslims live in ‘peace and harmony’ despite being confronted with footage appearing to show shackled prisoners being herded onto trains.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Liu Xiaoming denied reports that China is carrying out a programme of sterilisation of Uighur women in the western Xinjiang region.
Mr Liu went on to stress that the Uighur population, which has reportedly increased in numbers in the last 40 years, enjoy a ‘peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups’ in Xinjiang.
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