Nearly 3,000 children from a Uyghur-populated county in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) whose parents have been taken to political re-education camps are being held in so-called Little Angel Schools, where they take classes, Uyghur sources said.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious” or “politically incorrect” views have been detained in camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under rule from Beijing.
The children left without guardians after their parents were detained have meanwhile been sent to live in overcrowded facilities in the region which they are not free to leave, sources say.
Speaking in a recent phone interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service, the ruling Chinese Communist Party Secretary for Hotan prefecture’s Keriye county said that about 2,000 children ages 4 to 14 are now being held in one five-story county school, with another 300 to 500 held in a four-story school in Keriye’s Yengibagh town.
"They are called Little Angels Schools," he said.
“One school was built over a year ago, and the second one was completed four months ago, as the first school became too overcrowded,” the official said.
Children held in the Little Angels Schools range in age from 8 to 13 or 14, and are served at the school in Yengibagh by a kindergarten, primary school, and middle school, he said.
Both schools are surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire and are located near police stations whose officers patrol the walls to “provide security,” the official said.
“From what I have seen, the children look relaxed and happy,” the official said, adding, “They look just like children who still have their parents with them.”
“They are not allowed to go out, though, because their safety is important.”
“Some of them are very young, and as they are not all in their own district, there is a chance they could get lost. There aren’t enough staff members available to follow every child,” he said.
U.S. 'deeply troubled'
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US government was "deeply troubled" by the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, adding that “credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 numbers at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.”
"Some of those disproportionate controls on ethnic minorities—expressions of their cultural and also their religious entities—have the potential also to incite radicalization and the recruitment of violence," she told reporters during a news briefing.
The official warned that “indiscriminate and disproportionate controls on ethnic minorities’ expressions of their cultural and religious identities have the potential to incite radicalization and recruitment to violence.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers, in a recent letter, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to “swiftly act” to sanction Chinese government officials and entities complicit in or directing the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Xinjiang.
“The detention of as many as a million or more Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political re-education’ centers or camps requires a tough, targeted, and global response,” lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who lead the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a joint statement.
'It is not mistreatment'
The position of China's central government authorities has evolved from denying that large numbers of Uyghurs have been incarcerated in camps to disputing that the facilities are political re-education camps.
Li Xiaojun, director for publicity at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Information Office told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that China was not mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang, but educating them to prevent extremism.
"It is not mistreatment," said "What China is doing is to establish professional training centers, educational centers," Li was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
"To put it straight, it’s like vocational training ... like your children go to vocational training schools to get better skills and better jobs after graduation."
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, which equates to 10 to11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.