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China is systematically detaining Uighurs — and the world isn’t doing enough about it

This week’s Worldly episode discusses the muted global response to China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims.

A Uighur man walks in Kashgar, China, on June 30.
David Liu/Getty Images

In China’s Xinjiang province, Uighur Muslims are being detained and held in what are effectively concentration camps, where they’re subjected to human rights abuses, including torture, forced sterilization, and brainwashing.

But no one seems to be doing much about it at the international level.

On this week’s episode of Worldly, Vox’s weekly international podcast, senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp, international security and defense reporter Alex Ward, and senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams discuss why the international response to the Uighur crisis has been muted — and why it deserves much more attention and action.

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group that share cultural and ethnic similarities with Central Asian nations. An estimated 11 million Uighurs live in Xinjiang — but as many as 1 million Uighurs are being held in these camps.

In the camps, Uighurs are reportedly facing mass sterilization, forced labor, sexual assault, and intense surveillance. They are also said to be forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and to criticize or renounce their Muslim faith.

But China denies that abuses are occurring in what they euphemistically call “re-education camps.” China’s position is that the Uighurs are receiving “vocational training” to learn about Chinese history and culture, with the goal of fending off terrorism from Uighur separatist movements.

Earlier this week, China’s ambassador to the UK, when confronted with drone footage of what appears to be blindfolded Uighurs being led to a camp, again denied that the Uighurs are facing abuses and claimed that Uighurs live harmoniously with other ethnic groups.

Despite these reports of human rights abuses being committed against the Uighurs, international responses to the crisis have lacked urgency. The UK government has spoken out against the abuses and the US has imposed sanctions on China, but widespread action has been absent, including from Muslim-majority countries (like Iran, which is currently finalizing a $400 billion economic and security deal with China).

To hear more about why China is detaining the Uighur people and what the international community should be doing about it, listen to the full episode of Worldly, which you can stream below.

And subscribe to Worldly on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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