With Breadwinners Locked in Camps, Families Struggle to Survive

The mass confinement of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs in internment camps resulted in a myriad of children and parents of the detained left with no means of subsistence.

The CCP has detained millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in transformation through education camps in Xinjiang, forcing them to free labor, as their children and parents are left to fend for themselves. Bitter Winter talked to some of them in the region’s Turpan prefecture.

A sizeable deserted area of land in Shanshan, a county in Xinjiang’s Turpan prefecture.
A sizeable deserted area of land in Shanshan, a county in Xinjiang’s Turpan prefecture.

An Uyghur woman, nearly 80 years old, told Bitter Winter that in 2018, her son and daughter-in-law were sent to an internment camp for attending worship services and wearing traditional attire. She looks after four grandchildren, the youngest of whom is a toddler. With no one to work their land where they grow grapes, she had to rent it out for a small amount to pay for daily necessities.

There are a great many families like hers in the prefecture. The old woman told Bitter Winter that over 50 people in her village had been detained in camps. Growing grapes is the primary income source for farmers in Turpan, but since many Uyghur men, who used to work the land, pick and sell grapes, have been detained, local families have suffered substantial financial losses.

“I have to do all the work growing grapes myself, but I can hardly manage,” another Uyghur woman told Bitter Winter helplessly. “I wish my husband would be released to help me, but this is only a dream.” Ever since her husband was detained in April 2018 for attending worship services, the woman has been running the household and taking care of her two children alone. She rented out half of their 1.6 acres of land to receive some income and left the other half for herself.

“It’s very difficult to take care of two children alone, but I just bottle up the stress and have a good cry when I’m overwhelmed. There is nothing much I can do about this,” the woman said, looking worriedly at the drying grapes which will yet have to be sold.

Every week, she has to attend three classes in the village committee studying President Xi Jinping’s thought, “national unity,” and other similar content. “Government officials told me that my husband studies inside the camp the same things I do outside, and as we both are studying, my husband may be released earlier,” she said with hope.

The parents of an over-20-year-old Uyghur man were detained in 2018. As he could not manage the family’s over 16 acres of land on his own, he helplessly watched as grapes were turning into waste. Every acre used to bring them a yearly income between 60,000 to 120,000 RMB (about $ 8,400 and 16,800) on average. But the land is now overgrown with weeds higher than the grape trellis.

The family’s land is overgrown with weeds.
The family’s land is overgrown with weeds.

Two boys, 5 and 6 years of age, in another Uyghur family, are in an even more dire situation. Their parents were taken away in 2017, and they were left to live with their grandparents, who were arrested and interned a year later. Relatives now take care of the two children.

According to a local source, the boys’ father was arrested for wearing a beard, and their mother for wearing a black skirt and a headscarf.

After a 25-year-old Uyghur woman’s father, uncle, aunt, and other relatives were sent to camps one after another in 2017, she has been taking care of her younger siblings and mother, who suffers from heart disease. Since the government confiscated all her family’s property, she also has to pay living expenses for her relatives who are detained in the camps.

“I cried every day in the beginning, but I couldn’t change anything: I could only try to survive,” the young woman said in distress. “Now, I just scramble to make money under unbearable pressure.”