Ten Uyghur former detainees who earn half the salaries of their fellow employees at a shipping firm in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) city, in far western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), additionally must forfeit nearly 50 percent of their wages to their old internment camp, according to sources.
The former detainees from Pahtekli township, in Kashgar prefecture’s Kona Sheher (Shufu) county, draw monthly salaries of 2,200 yuan (U.S. $320) working as porters at the shipping center’s loading dock in Kashgar city—a trading post city of 500,000—but must surrender 900 yuan (U.S. $130) of it to the camp in which they were previously held, a Uyghur cadre from the township told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The cadre, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former detainees had been placed at the job in Kashgar’s Qizil district by handlers at their internment camp—one of a vast network in which authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
“They’re all from Pahtekli, from our village brigade,” the cadre said, adding that the former detainees work “every day” at the loading dock, although they are permitted to return to their homes at night.
“There’s someone there [at the company] from the internment camp who collects the money … They go to record whether they [the former detainees] show up for work.”
The cadre said he was unsure whether the camp staffer’s job was specifically to monitor the former detainees or to act as a money handler.
RFA also spoke with a Uyghur employee of the shipping company, who said she oversees 57 loading dock workers who receive average monthly salaries of 4,000-5,000 yuan ($580-725) for up to 11-hour shifts, seven days a week.
When asked why former detainees received significantly lower salaries, the employee replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.” She was also unsure how many former detainees are working under her supervision.
The employee made no attempt to hide that her staff is required to undergo political education and other sessions aimed at assimilating Uyghurs into Han Chinese culture.
“We definitely hold a flag raising ceremony every Monday,” she said, adding that there is also an “after-hours training” session that had recently been canceled and an hour-long Chinese language instruction class held every afternoon.
The employee said she was unsure about the nature of the activities of the internment camp staff that make regular visits to the company.
“When they come for record-keeping, I don’t see them,” she said, adding that the camp staff meet with higher-level employees.
Former business owner
RFA also learned additional details about one of the former detainees named Erkin Hashim from a source with knowledge of the area who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Hashim had set up a successful business driving his tractor and other vehicles throughout Kona Sheher and neighboring counties before he was sent to an internment camp in 2017, the source said.
Hashim’s wife, mother and two children were able to live off of savings for the first year of his detention but were forced to sell off his tractor and other assets beginning in 2018 to support themselves financially.
Since his release in 2020, Hashim has been working at the loading dock along with his nine fellow former detainees for the shipping company which the source said is owned by Han Chinese migrants that used to be employees at his business.
RFA spoke with a police officer in Pahtekli, who confirmed that Hashim is a professional driver whose business was thriving until the time of his detention.
“On the outside, he drove tractors and cars,” the officer said.
“They’ve let him out, I think last Spring. He’s back home now … He was re-educated for three years.”
According to the officer, Hashim was released because he “like dto have fun” drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, suggesting that he paid little attention to matters pertaining to religion and politics.
RFA also spoke about Hashim with the Uyghur cadre from Pahtekli, who called the former detainee “fixed,” having come out of the camps “a very good man.”
“There’s a shipping company over on the other side of the Qizil Bridge—that’s where he’s working,” the cadre said.
“He drove a tractor before [the camp]. Now, he unloads goods that have been brought in and loads them into other vehicles.”
According to the cadre, while Hashim was previously able to take time off from work to spend with his family, “he’s there every day” at the loading dock, working 10-hour days.
Hashim previously earned around 5,000 yuan (U.S. $725) per month through his business, he said, but now makes only 1,300 yuan (U.S. $189).
The cadre confirmed that the leadership of the shipping company is Han Chinese and that the owner is a former employee of Hashim’s.
“Yes, they’re comrades,” he said, using a common euphemism. “The comrade is someone who worked for him before.”
Reports of wage disparities at the shipping company in Kashgar come amid indications that China is increasingly relocating some inmates of its three-year-old internment camp program that has drawn international condemnation and U.S. sanctions, sending many to work in factories across China and putting some on trial.
Last month, RFA reported on a residential zone in the seat of Kashgar’s Makit (Maigaiti) county known as the “14th Neighborhood Committee,” which permits detainees to live with their families, but otherwise differs little from the camps. Residents are strictly monitored and made to attend mandatory political indoctrination classes, as well as sessions involving “self-examinations” and “confessions,” while entry and exit from the compound is restricted.
People held at the committee “sleep and work there,” according to sources, including at several factories and workshops both inside and near the compound or, in rarer cases, market shops outside the residential grounds. Residents are permitted to work at facilities outside because there are not enough factories inside to employ everyone.
It was not immediately clear if the shipping company in Kashgar accepts former detainees to work there as part of a similar scheme.
Other investigations by RFA have found that former detainees placed in forced and coerced labor schemes following their detention are regularly required to surrender part of their pay to camp administrators. In some cases, they are housed in dormitories on their workplace campuses and only permitted to visit their families at home as little as once a month.
A source who declined to be named, but who claims to have inside knowledge of the situation, recently told RFA that camp administrators often have problems placing former detainees in work programs unless they agree to low salaries. The source said that this is another way detainees are punished for their alleged “crimes” related to religious extremism.
Beijing describes its three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
RFA has documented countless university-trained specialists and other professionals who have been swept up into the “vocational training” system, where they are re-educated in spite of having studied at prestigious schools and forged successful careers prior to their detention.
Meanwhile, reporting by RFA has found that a number of Uyghur entrepreneurs have lost their assets since the beginning of the internment campaign. In some cases, their assets and businesses have ended up in the hands of Han migrants to the region.
Earlier reporting and evidence from construction bids and tenders themselves have shown that local governments throughout Xinjiang have been forced to bear the financial burden of camp construction.
Diaspora Uyghur experts and analysts speculate that the large-scale detention and seizure of assets from Uyghur businessowners and entrepreneurs over the past several years has effectively forced the cost of the camps detaining Uyghurs en masse onto Uyghurs themselves.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.