More than one million Uygurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are detained in Xinjiang by the Chinese government in what the UN calls re-education camps. This mass detention of Uygurs against their will in internment camps is a total abuse of human rights. This systemic oppression includes the erosion of ethnic identity of the Uygur people and imposition of religious restrictions in a region that has transformed into a surveillance state. The world knows what's happening but there has been a deathly lack of meaningful action on this issue from the highest levels of government in Australia and around the world. I do welcome the letter signed by Australia and 21 other nations at the Human Rights Council recently which urged China to end its mass arbitrary detentions and related violations and called on China to allow UN and international observers to access the region, but this is not enough. Torn apart from their families, imprisoned for years and suffering in the dark shadows of secrecy, these people have nowhere to turn. The United Nations has called these camps a 'no rights zone', and the world isn't batting an eyelid.
A recent ground-breaking investigation by the ABC's Four Corners program, led by the excellent Sophie McNeill, told the heartbreaking stories of the Australian Uygur community whose families have been separated and who have partners, brothers, sisters, children and parents being held in forced detention in Xinjiang. Sadam's wife and two-year-old son, who is an Australian citizen, are trapped in Xinjiang. He is at his wit's end. He's desperate to be reunited with them. It is gut-wrenching to see a young man lose hope, but he hasn't given up just yet. His strength and courage in coming out publicly to somehow get his family here not only is admirable but also has shone a light on the horrific human rights abuses in Xinjiang. It is gut-wrenching to see a young man lose hope. But he hasn't given up just yet. His strength and courage in coming out publicly to somehow get his family here is not only admirable but has shone a light on the horrific human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Almas, another young Uyghur, last saw his wife on Valentine's Day in 2017 when he visited China to surprise her. The month after he visited she was taken away by Chinese police when she was on her way to hospital to confirm a home pregnancy test. This was over two years ago. She hasn't been seen or heard from since and no-one knows what's happened to her pregnancy.
These stories break my heart. There are so many more that we haven't heard, that we haven't seen and that we'll probably never know about. Just last week, I stood outside foreign minister Marise Payne's office with Sadam and Almas asking her to take action to reunite these families. I do urge the minister and the Australian government to leave no stone unturned to bring families back together. Both Sadam and Almas are here tomorrow in parliament, and I do hope that you can find it in your hearts to go and meet them and have a chat to them and hear them out.
The Four Corners program also unveiled evidence of forced labour from these re-education camps in China. The investigators named retailers Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Ikea, Dangerfield, and H&M as sourcing cotton for their products from this area. Not knowing if their supply chain is involved in human slavery isn't good enough. Reports of links between Australian universities and the development of Chinese government technology used in oppression and human rights violations of Uyghurs are also extremely disturbing. Suggestions that Australian research may have contributed to racially profiling Uyghurs is equally disturbing. Universities must urgently review their existing partnerships and their research ethics processes to ensure that their work does not contribute to global oppression and abuses of human rights.
Analysis of satellite imagery has shown that in the last year alone the camps have expanded at an exponential rate. The Uyghurs and other Muslims in China have suffered economic marginalisation, cultural genocide and political oppression for decades. A pervasive, technologically advanced surveillance apparatus is in place in all of Xinjiang. The United Nations human rights chief is still awaiting clearance from the Chinese government after having repeatedly asked China to grant the UN access to Xinjiang. The Australian government must become much bolder in defending the rights of China's minorities. The horrific human rights abuses against China's Turkic Muslims and the minorities can no longer be ignored.