Normally we write the travel advice posts for this website in a politically neutral fashion, trying to share actionable advice while leaving the moral judgement elsewhere. With this piece, I wanted to write it from my account, because I felt that morally I could not pass on travel advice without urging you to read about the systemic oppression of the Uighur people. Official travel advice below.

What is believed to be happening

The Uighurs (also spelled Uyghurs) live predominantly in Xinjiang in northwest China. Coincidentally, this is where huge deposits of oil, gas and valuable minerals have been discovered in recent decades.

Tensions between the Uighurs and other ethnic groups, mainly the Han, have flared up periodically over the last half century. Mass migration and economic inequality have exacerbated the situation. There have been multiple terrorist attacks committed by Uighurs, with the goal of harming the Chinese state. Protests have lead to more security and scrutiny, which is used to justify the terror attacks, which leads to more security crackdowns, and so on.

In this pattern, the central authorities have increased their surveillance and repression of the local people in recent years. Under the guise of security legislation, many forms of religious expression has been banned. The majority of the Uighurs, an ethnically Turkic people, are Muslim and this ban includes forbidding men from growing beards and the women from wearing face coverings. The Uighur language has been banned from schools. An intense surveillance system is in place, monitoring movement at all times.

In February 2017, authorities required all vehicles be fitted with GPS tracking devices. A few months earlier, in November, many Uighurs were required to hand over their passports. In the summer of 2016, the authorities started to demand people ‘provide DNA samples and other biological data when applying for travel documents.’

An increasing number of Uighurs have been detained for being in violation of the security rules. It is currently unclear how many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs are in the ‘re-education’ camps in Xinjiang. A US State Department recently put the figure at “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million.” At least 120,000 people are believed to be held in Kashgar alone. This week reports surfaced of sportswear for sale in the US that was potentially made by forced labour in these camps.

Our coverage traces some of the evolution of this situation over the last few years –

The Chinese authorities have forced out reporters that have exposed the brutal crackdown in the region. They would rather the rest of the world did not know what was happening. As a results, anyone deemed an ‘outsider’ is a potential target for detention. If you are considering travel to Xinjiang, please thoroughly research the risks and make sure you have a robust travel risk management plan in place. China does not recognise dual nationalities – if you are a dual national and you are detained, it may be difficult to access consular assistance.

Official travel advice

From the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

The security situation in Xinjiang remains fragile, and conditions locally can deteriorate rapidly at short notice. There have been instances of violent unrest in Xinjiang, causing deaths. There have been allegations of the use of lethal force to disperse protests. The risk of terrorism is higher in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region than in other regions of China. See Terrorism

Be alert to the possibility of being caught up in any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. The Chinese authorities will increase the security presence in the area and tend to react quickly and harshly to these incidents. The Chinese authorities may restrict travel to some areas of Xinjiang, particularly during religious festivals and after violent attacks.

There have been widespread reports of arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial detention in Xinjiang, mainly affecting the local population, particularly Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. You may be at increased risk if you’re of Uyghur descent and/or have lived previously in Xinjiang; or if you appear to be Muslim.

You should expect airport-style security measures, including passport and security checks, at entrances to public places such as shopping centres, markets and parks. You may be required to inform the security forces of your phone number, have your photograph taken, or be questioned as to the nature of your travel.

Carry your passport at all times, avoid all protests and large crowds, be vigilant and monitor media reports. Do not photograph or film protests, large crowds, security officials or installations, or anything of a military nature.

You should be aware that the ability of the British Embassy Beijing and British Consulates in China to provide consular support in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is limited.

from Travel Advice Summary, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/china

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