Human Rights,  International

Uighurs in China subject to forced relocation

Among the reasons for the violent anger of many Uighurs in western China is a government policy of essentially forced relocation to work in factories in the eastern part of the country, The Washington Post reports:

URUMQI, China — When the local government began recruiting young Muslim Uighurs in this far western region for jobs at the Xuri Toy Factory in the country’s booming coastal region, the response was mixed.

Some, lured by the eye-popping salaries and benefits, eagerly signed up.

But others, like Safyden’s 21-year-old sister, were wary. She was uneasy, relatives said, about being so far from her family and living in a Han Chinese-dominated environment so culturally, religiously and physically different from what she was accustomed to. It wasn’t until a local official threatened to fine her family 2,000 yuan, or about $300, if she didn’t go that she reluctantly packed her bags this spring for a job at the factory in Shaoguan, 2,000 miles away in the heart of China’s southern manufacturing belt.
Xinjiang’s labor export program, which began in 2002 and has since sent tens of thousands of Uighurs from poor villages to wealthier cities, was supposed to bring the two groups together so they could better interact with and understand each other. The Uighur workers are lured with salaries two or three times what they could earn in their home towns picking cotton, as well as benefits such as training on manufacturing equipment, Mandarin language classes and free medical checkups.

Several Uighur workers said that they have prospered under the program and that they were treated well by their Han bosses and co-workers. Others, however, alleged that the program had become coercive.

In the villages around the city of Kashgar, where many of the workers from the Xuri factory originated, residents said each family was forced to send at least one child to the program — or pay a hefty fine.

“Since people are poor in my home town, they cannot afford such big money. So they have to send their children out,” said Merzada, a 20-year-old who just graduated from high school and who, like all the Uighurs interviewed, spoke on the condition that a surname not be used.
A Uighur man named Yasn said his family had no choice but to send his sister, who had just graduated from middle school, to the eastern city of Qingdao to work in a sock factory last year because they could not afford the fine: “She cried at home every day until she left. She is a girl — according to our religion and culture, girls don’t go to such distant places. If we had it our way, we would like to marry her to someone or let her go to school somewhere to escape it,” he said.

The Han Chinese owner of a textile factory in Hebei province that has been hiring Uighur workers from the program since 2007 said that in the first year the company participated, 143 female workers came to the company. Liu Guolin said he was surprised to see that they were accompanied by a bilingual police official from their home town who oversaw the details of their daily life.

“Without the policeman, I assume they would have run away from the very beginning. I did not realize that until the local officials revealed to me later. Only by then did I learn most of those girls did not come voluntarily,” Liu said.

He said the security officer did not allow them to pray or wear head scarves in the factory workshops. He later learned that some of the girls were as young as 14 and that their ID cards had been forged by the local government.