RISING numbers of coronavirus cases in China have sparked fears for the one million Uighurs who are locked up in hellish prison camps.
The Xinjiang region is reporting a new cluster of Covid-19 cases and there is international concern that the virus could seep into the jail where more than a million minority Muslim people are being held.
On Monday, Chinese health authorities reported 68 new cases of Covid-19, including 57 in the far western region of Xinjiang, bringing the area’s reported total to 235.
This came after a five-month streak of no coronavirus infections in Xinjiang.
The new case load could potentially spill into the prison in the region, experts fear.
China claim their mass incarceration policy of Uighurs was to curb terrorism – but they have faced condemnation from across the world for their heavy-handed tactics.
They have been accused of torturing the detainees and sterilising women.
Beijing have strongly denied all claims from critics, including accusation of cultural genocide or ethnic cleansing.
The camps are shrouded in secrecy with it off-limits to the public and international inspectors.
Dr Anna Hayes, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at James Cook University in Australia, fears that China's lack of transparency means an outbreak may never even come to light.
She told the Guardian: "I doubt we would ever know.
"But the fact there is community transmission, it’s only a matter of time, if it hasn’t happened already."
Hayes said centres that have been shown on Chinese state TV appear to have dorms with only six to eight beds.
There are also reports from people who have been in camps of overcrowded cells with as many as 60 people, awful sanitary conditions and poor food and clothing, and mistreatment.
She said: "All these factors increase people’s vulnerability, and they’re under incredible distress and duress which factor into someone’s immune system.
"They don’t even have to have a comorbidity. Just the stress they’re under increases the chance of a very negative outcome if they get Covid."
Relatives have been appealing publicly for their "disappeared" loved ones who they believed were dragged to these prison camps.
Leaked documents from earlier this year show Uighurs are being thrown into detention for arbitrary reasons such as for having beards or wearing veils.
Survivors have also spoken out about the horror going on in the camps, but China continues to insist are merely for re-education.
Some 50,000 Uighurs have fled the Communist state and are now living in exile in the Zeytinburnu and Sefakoy neighbourhoods in Istanbul.
Human rights groups also claim that a fifth of all cotton products come from detained Uighars, leaving "virtually the entire" fashion industry "tainted".
Earlier this month more than 180 organisations were urging brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the Xinjiang region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that benefit from forced labour.
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