More than 80 percent of the Uyghur children at a village preschool in China’s far-western Xinjiang have at least one parent in state custody, while pupils with both parents in detention attend a separate “welfare school” where they are continuously monitored, RFA has learned.
China has been separating Uyghur children from parents under the program of mass internment camps launched by Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo. The campaign has seen up to 1.8 million Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities rounded up and sent to political re-education camps under the pretext of vocational training.
About six months after the internment campaign began in early 2017, reports began to surface about the children of “double-detained” parents — those whose mother and father both were incarcerated — being placed in state care, according to independent German researcher Adrian Zenz, who has documented the XUAR’s internment camp system.
Twenty-five of the 30 children enrolled in the preschool at one township in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture have one parent being detained by authorities, while those with both parents detained are being taught at a separate “welfare preschool”— a boarding school that functions like an orphanage for children four to six years old — a security officer at the school told RFA.
“At our preschool, some of the children still have their mother [on the outside], and some of the children still have their father,” she told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “There are something like 25 of these children” among the total 30.
About 150,000 people live in 15 villages of Chaharbagh township in Yarkand (Shache) county.
During the winter, the children with one detained parent live in dormitories at the preschool, and during the warmer months, they are allowed to live at home and be brought to school each day by their other parent, said the security officer who declined to be named in order to speak freely.
The children of detainees are sometimes allowed to have video chats with their parents, though they are unable to speak freely during the brief meetings, she said.
“Whenever there is a notification that it’s OK for the children to meet with their parents, they let them do so,” the security officer said.
Some of the children are aware that their parents are in re-education facilities when they speak to them via video chats, she added.
RFA has confirmed similar arrangements for children in other parts of the XUAR.
A welfare preschool in Aksu (Akesu) prefecture has 40-some students, according to a security officer who has worked there for nearly four years and took part in political studies.
“We live in a [school] housing area, [and] we take turns in the security office at the school’s entrance,” said the security guard from Kuchar (Kuche) county’s Ishkhala township who declined to give her name.
“There are arranging meetings — on-screen, face-to-face meetings — for the children at the preschool, in particular for those under our jurisdiction,” she said.
Children with both parents detained, who are being educated in separate schools, are monitored by police and security guards 24 hours a day, said an official in central Xinjiang’s Korla (Ku’erle), the second-largest city in the XUAR.
He said that guards make sure the children do not leave the school and enforce political indoctrination.
Omer Hemdulla, a Uyghur from the XUAR who now lives in Turkey, has participated in “Where is my family?” protests outside the Chinese Embassy in Istanbul, demanding information about the disappearance of his two children, and the imprisonment since October 2017 of his two millionaire older brothers.
The children were one and two years old when he left them in Xinjiang and moved to Turkey in hopes of relocating his family members to the country, which is home to 50,000-100,000 Uyghur exiles. But his children were taken away after his brothers and in-laws were detained.
“After they took my in-laws in, our communication was essentially cut off,” he said. “I have been unable to obtain any information about where my daughters are.”
RFA contacted the Justice Department of Bayingolin (Bayinguoleng) prefecture to try to find out about Omer’s children, but an official was unable to provide details.
The official confirmed that children there with both parents detained were attending a welfare school run by the Bureau of Civil Affairs, but declined to provide information about the school, including the number of children enrolled.
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