China’s Jaw-Dropping Family Separation Policy
Children and parents are being ripped apart on a massive scale. It may rob an entire generation of their Muslim identities.
Tahir Imin is the type of father who likes to take a video of his daughter each and every week. His phone is full of clips and photos of her: in a tutu, holding up a drawing, on a merry-go-round. Even at age six, she would ride piggyback on him as they made-believe she was a princess and he, a king. She’s seven years old now, and he’d probably still carry her aloft on his back if he could. But she’s in China. He’s in the U.S. And the last time they talked, about six months ago, she told him he’s a bad person.
Imin and his family are Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. The country has long suppressed Uighur religious identity, claiming it fuels separatism and extremism, and in the past year its crackdown has grown increasingly harsh. China has sent approximately one million Uighurs to internment camps for what the government calls “re-education,” according to estimates cited by the UN and U.S. officials. The Independentand other media outlets have reported, based on interviews with former inmates, that camp administrators try to force Uighurs to renounce Islam—which the Communist Party has characterized in one official recording as an “ideological illness” and a “virus [in] their brain”—and get them to identify with the Chinese government rather than with the Uighur people.
The mass internment system doesn’t only affect the Uighurs incarcerated in it. It also involves family separation, which impacts thousands of children. When Uighur parents are sent to the camps, their children are often taken away to state-run orphanages, which are proliferating to accommodate the growing demand, Emily Feng of the Financial Times has reported. Under state care, isolated from their relatives, the children are cut off from Uighur culture and language. Ultimately, some Uighurs and experts told me, such assimilationist policies may enable China to reshape the identity of an entire generation of Uighurs.