Forced labor has been a central part of China’s campaign against the Uighurs for as long as I can remember. I was born in a re-education camp at the height of China’s infamous Cultural Revolution. My father was sent to a separate forced labor camp. I grew up witnessing Uighur villagers forced by Chinese authorities to build irrigation systems and pick cotton.
Tragically, decades later, re-education camps and forced labor remain a gruesome reality affecting millions of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan, which China calls the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. These camps, despite the euphemism of “vocational training centers,” are far from vocational and never voluntary. Detainees suffer torture, rape, forced sterilization and abortion, constant political indoctrination and even death. Authorities have also forced tens of thousands of detainees to work in the Uighur region and elsewhere in China.