China’s latest coronavirus outbreak in Xinjiang has been attributed to a clothing factory run under a state-run program believed to be linked to forced labor.
The new wave in the Muslim-dominated province is connected to a small garment factory set up by the government to lift residents out of poverty, according to an investigative report.
International experts have called the controversial “poverty reduction” program “coercive” and said it often involved forced labor.
A report found that China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak in Xinjiang is linked to a garment factory run under the national “poverty reduction” program. In the photo, residents of Kashgar City Vocational Training Center attend a sewing class on January 4, 2019
International experts have called the state-sponsored work program “coercive”. In the photo, Uyghur women weave rugs in the Hetian carpet factory on September 4, 2007
China says COVID-19 outbreak in Xinjiang appears to be contained
Xinjiang officials say they believe they have contained the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak.
Xinjiang on Thursday reported 23 new confirmed cases, all involving people who initially tested positive but did not show any symptoms.
It was the second day in a row that newly confirmed cases emerged entirely among these people.
Officials say the development appears to show new infections were curbed in Kashgar prefecture, where the outbreak emerged on Saturday.
They say all of the cases appear to be linked to a garment factory that employs 252 people and has since been sealed off.
More than 4.7 million people in Kashgar have been tested for the virus.
The epidemic appeared on Saturday in Kashgar prefecture, a region mainly inhabited by Uyghurs. More than 180 people have tested positive.
According to a detailed report by Chinese news site Caixin on Tuesday, the virus broke out at the state-run clothing factory in Zhanmin County, Shufu County, outside Kashgar City. .
The factory is “densely packed” with most of its employees coming from neighboring villages, residents told Caixin, an independent financial news agency.
Two of the factory workers stricken with the virus are the parents of “patient zero” in this wave of infections, a 17-year-old girl.
The disease began to spread among their colleagues after their daughter returned home three times to Zhanmin Number Three Village, the Xinjiang government said on Sunday.
The teenager works at another garment factory and lives in the nearby Number Two Village of Zhanmin, the Xinjiang government reported on Saturday.
Her infection was detected during a regular COVID-19 test and she showed no symptoms, according to a statement.
Although the Xinjiang official identified the source of the outbreak as a garment factory in Zhanmin County, it was Caixin’s article that revealed the factory’s link to the controversial ” poverty ”government.
More than 180 people have tested positive in the wave of infections in Xinjiang since Saturday
Experts have pointed out that the state-run program could cause people to work against their will.
Commenting on Caixin’s report, Adrian Zenz, a German researcher specializing in minority policies in China, said the program puts “all adult Uyghurs and related minorities in low-skilled factory jobs.”
He told the Guardian that “industry-based poverty reduction” is not voluntary but mandatory “.
He added that those who refuse to be “relieved” may face “an ideological education so that their thinking aligns with the goals of the state”.
A New York Times investigation in August found that China was rushing to meet global demand for PPE during the pandemic by using Uyghur labor as part of the labor transfer program.
Amy K. Lehr, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times that the program had “coercive quotas that cause people to work in factories when they are not. don’t want to be. “.
“And that could be considered forced labor under international law,” she said.
China was forcing Uyghur workers to mass-produce face masks as part of the country’s “re-education” program for Muslims during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report in August. The photo taken on June 18 shows workers at a garment factory in Aketao County, Xinjiang.
China has come under heavy criticism from other countries and NGO groups for its policies against Muslims and other religious groups, including suspected sterilization programs, forced labor camps and “re-education.” “.
UN experts and activists have claimed that at least one million ethnic Uyghurs have been held in detention centers in Xinjiang, the western region of China with a large ethnic Muslim minority population.
Former detainees claimed that Muslims were forced to eat pork and speak Mandarin in these internment camps.
After initially denying their existence, China admitted that it had opened “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang aimed at preventing extremism by teaching Mandarin and vocational skills.
This photo taken on June 2, 201.9 shows a facility considered to be a re-education camp where most of the Muslim ethnic minorities are held in Artux, north of Kashgar in Xinjiang, China.
China has repeatedly rejected criticism of its religious policies.
In July, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom insisted that Uyghur Muslims live in “peace and harmony” despite being confronted with images appearing to show chained prisoners parked on trains.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, Liu Xiaoming denied reports that China is running a program to sterilize Uyghur women in the western region of Xinjiang.
Liu went on to point out that the Uyghur population, which has reportedly increased in number over the past 40 years, enjoys “peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups” in Xinjiang.