Mapping China’s Xinjiang Internment Camps for Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims

Published May 24th, 2018 - 09:15 GMT
The site of a secret internment camp in Xinjiang provine, China (Rami Khoury/Al Bawaba/Google Earth)
The site of a secret internment camp in Xinjiang provine, China (Rami Khoury/Al Bawaba/Google Earth)


  • China is detaining hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims
  • Inside, they are subject to abuse in an attempt to 're-educate' them away from their religion
  • Those camps are now being found via satellite photos
  • China is unleashing a dystopian surveillance state to regulate its minorities 



Many residents of the small town of Kargilik speak Uyghur rather than Mandarin, practice Islam rather than Buddhism, and are ethnically Turkic, not Han, which is the dominant ethnicity in China. Inside Kargilik stands the Jama Mosque, which serves the dual purpose of being a local prayer space for Muslims and a tourist attraction.

In 2017, the Chinese government put a banner over the facade of the mosque, telling worshippers to  'Love the Party, Love the Country.’ Inside, another banner orders all to 'Actively Promote Chinese-Style Islam.’ Right outside the town, construction workers began building a massive detainment and re-education center where Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims are to be taken and molded into model Chinese citizens.

All over the northwestern province of Xinjiang, China is detaining hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities, interning them in newly built camps in an attempt to secularize them, subjecting them to various physical and psychological abuses in the process. Some are held in solitary confinement, others report being forced to drink alcohol and eat pork’, both practices forbidden in Islam.

“The goal is to mass engineer the identity of the Muslims--which are too different from Hans, from the state's perspective-- so they become loyal, obedient subjects of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].” Maya Wang, a senior researcher on China for Human Rights Watch told Al Bawaba.

“This is done through pervasive surveillance, political indoctrination and control--particularly over their movement--over the Muslims of that region.”


A law student at the University of British Columbia, Shawn Zhang, has begun geo-locating some of China’s new detainment and re-education centers. Though it is difficult to verify much of the information, Zhang has matched the details and locations of requested centers in government bids to contractors with new building projects around Xinjiang.

Kargilik Center

(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

According to the bid, the site is 82,000 square meters, and contains a conversion center, a ‘vocational’ school, and ‘supporting facilities’ which appear to be a geometric labyrinth of detention facilities.



(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

This sprawling complex appears to have a detention center and a re-education camp, with more buildings currently being constructed. Listed as the ‘second phase’ of project according to its bid, the project is funded by the Jiashi County Bureau of Justice and includes a ‘vocational skills training center.’



(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

Zhang notes in his blog that the space the detaintment and re-education centers occupy was empty as of March 6, 2017. Construction reportedly began in May, 2017 and includes a “legal education conversion school” according to a translation of the bid.

An announcement from Shufu’s local government states that a  “rehabilitation center” will be made in the space between the detainment and re-education center.



(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

This project is notable in that the local government publicly announced it to be a school in April, 2017.

This “school” however, has high fences surrounding each building and guard towers.


(Shawn Zhang, Medium)



(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

The project, announced by Shule County Bureau of Justice, is a massive detainment center advertised publicly as a “legal education/transformation school.”

Like the others, the project was made with machine-like speed. It was announced in early 2017 and was nearly complete by November, 2017.



(Shawn Zhang, Medium)

Zhang found this construction project thanks to an air conditioning company which had built AC units for the facility, which was referred to as a “legal education training center.”

The details and pictures of the air conditioning project were then matched with satellite imagery of a massive complex.

(Shawn Zhang, Medium)


China’s New Internment Program

The facilities pictured represent a handful of the detainment centers that Zhang has found. Adrian Zenz, author of the groundbreaking report that collected much of what we know of China’s program, has found 73 bids for the construction and expansion of detention and re-education facilities.

Often sold as ‘vocational’ or ‘skills’ training facilities, Zenz and others have pointed out that these are mere euphemisms for China’s goal of indoctrinating and policing ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh populations inside the restive region of Xinjiang.

“The aim is firstly to strongly intimidate the population in order to exert control and ensure social compliance, and secondly to discourage any practice of religion, driving people towards secularization,” Zenz told Al Bawaba in an interview.

Inside the facilities themselves, detainee face abuse and many have suffered psychological breakdowns. Reports have even indicated some to have died inside the camps. Leaked documents acquired by Zenz show that almost a million have been detained thus far.

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