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Wednesday, 06 March 2019 16:34

Muslim detainees say China using forced labour

Auelkhan, a 39-year-old Chinese citizen of Kazakh descent, says she was part of a network of mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang who pass from what China calls "vocational training centres" to factories where they are forced to work for far less than the local minimum wage.

China says the education centres are part of its efforts to fight terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang - a region populated by mostly Muslim minority groups adding that it denies any use of forced labour.

But rights groups say the practice used against Chinese minorities is widespread and at least one foreign company has dropped its Chinese supplier over the concerns.

Auelkhan says she was transferred to the glove factory at the Jiafang industrial estate in Xinjiang's Yining county after spending 15 months in two different "re-education" facilities.

More than a million people from Muslim minorities -- mostly ethnic Uighurs, but also Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Hui -- are being held in internment centres across Xinjiang, according to a United Nations panel of experts.

Auelkhan has residency rights in Kazakhstan but had travelled to China to see family when she was detained and put into a re-education centre.

She said life in the camps was brutal, with residents struck over the head with electrified batons for spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

"Every day we were taken to and from a dormitory three kilometres from the factory," she said, hugging the five-year-old daughter she didn't see for nearly two years.

Auelkhan said she was paid only 320 yuan ($48/42 euros) for close to two months' work before her time at the factory was curtailed in December and she was allowed to return to her family in Kazakhstan.

Xinjiang's average minimum wage ranges between 820 and 1,460 yuan per month, according to official statistics.

Beijing and officials in the region have fiercely denied any connection between the camps and under-paid labour.

A representative of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Government Press Office said "no labour contract between Education and Training Centres and enterprises" and "no enterprise obtains labour from training centres".

But rights groups insist the connection exists and some companies have started taking notice.

In January, Badger Sportswear, a firm based in the US state of North Carolina, announced it would stop sourcing clothing from its Xinjiang supplier Hetian Taida over concerns it was using forced labour linked to the "re-education" campaign.

Auelkhan believes she was only released from forced labour because of a public campaign launched by her husband and supported by a Xinjiang-focused rights group in Almaty.

Originally, re-education officials had told her and other centre residents that they would be "at (their) disposal" for at least six months, she said.

The oil-rich Kazakhstan government is a Beijing ally and Kazakh diplomats have entered into a dialogue with Beijing over Xinjiang, without publicly mentioning the re-education centres or criticising China's policies.

Darul Ihsan Media Desk

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