The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus a global public health emergency. As of February 15th, the coronavirus outbreak has killed over 1500 people and infected more than 70,000 people globally, with confirmed cases in at least 20 countries beyond China. Experts estimate the number is higher with more than 100,000 people are already infected. The global response has been rapid, with many countries suspending travel to and from China, evacuating citizens, enforcing virus screenings at airports, and taking other measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, the risk of mass outbreaks and coronavirus related deaths in China’s concentration camps in the Uyghur region (aka “Xinjiang”) remains ignored despite confirmed cases in the region and the deplorable conditions in the camps that make millions more vulnerable to infection and death.
The virus is reportedly spreading from person-to-person, including by persons showing no symptoms, in many parts of China as well the rest of the world. There is currently no vaccine for the virus. Children, the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions and weaker immune systems are more susceptible to death. If the international community fails to pressure China to take adequate measures to prevent outbreaks in the region, the nature of its mass network of concentration and forced labor camps will add an entirely new dimension to China’s ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs.
Uyghurs in the diaspora fear if the virus isn’t already in the camps, when it does reach them, the consequences will be catastrophic, leading to mass outbreaks and high mortalities very quickly given reports of overcrowding, starvation, forced labor, sexual abuse and torture in the camps. As China has largely ignored the issue of the virus spreading in the region and its crimes against humanity in the region are ongoing, it’s unlikely the Chinese government will allocate resources to address the issue.
Experts estimate there are more than 1000 detention facilities in the region, including detention and forced labor camps. US and UN officials estimate more than one million and as many as three million Uyghurs and other indigenous groups have been detained. More than 500,000 children whose parents are detained are put into state-owned orphanages, basically child camps. China has denied and then justified its mass detention and surveillance state in the region as a campaign to “eradicate ideological viruses.” Now that there is an actual virus spreading in the region and the risk of mass outbreaks and deaths is increasing day by day, China remains silent.
When the news of the concentration camps broke out in 2017, the international community was slow to react as the numbers grew from hundreds to thousands to hundreds of thousands and now millions. We must not wait until news of hundreds of coronavirus related deaths in the camps before we react. As China continues to struggle to contain the virus in Wuhan, we can easily assume the virus will rapidly spread throughout the camps and affect millions if we don’t raise the alarm now.
We call for:
1) WHO to send a delegation to the region to evaluate the spread of the virus, assess the risks in the camps and take all measures necessary to prevent mass outbreaks and deaths.
2) WHO, the UN, international human rights groups, national governments and the rest of the international community to pressure China to close the camps and release the millions detained immediately as part of the global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
3) Global health and humanitarian organizations to send medical supplies and teams to screen, diagnose and treat affected individuals in the Uyghur region.
Sign this petition to join our call and follow @UyghurIssues for the latest on the issue and share your concern on social media with #WHO2Urumqi, #VirusThreatInCamps and #CloseTheCamps.