Speaking to the Washington Post, the women echo the experiences of others who have escaped the estimated thousands of concentration camps built in Xinjiang, China’s largest and westernmost province, to house Uighur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz ethnic people. While survivors tend to be Kazakh – they can use their dual citizenship to escape to neighboring Kazakhstan – the majority of the 1 to 3 million people trapped in the camps are believed to be Uighurs. Others who have survived have been able to use their marital status to citizens of Pakistan or other neighboring countries to place pressure on Beijing to release them.
The nations themselves have not made any official statements condemning the Communist Party’s attempt to eradicate ethnic minorities in Xinjiang – sometimes actively praising it – but have quietly helped individuals with the influence to get their attention.
Camp survivors have previously testified to extreme torture, killings, live organ harvesting, infanticide, and slavery in the camps. An Associated Press (AP) report published last year revealed that some clothes made in slave facilities in the concentration camps made its way to America.
“Any woman or man under age 35 was raped and sexually abused,” Ruqiye Perhat, a student arrested in Xinjiang in 2009 for four years, told the Post. More recent survivors say that the camps had made rape more systematic than in regular prisons; guards would “put bags on the heads of the ones they wanted” and take the women out of their cells to be raped all night, returned for their fellow prisoners to see in the morning. One human rights activist told the Post they had documented at least seven cases of women being forced against their will to receive intrauterine devices as part of their entering the concentration camp, presumably to keep them from getting pregnant through rape.