China hails Xinjiang jobs success as criticism mounts

Beijing has come under intense international criticism over its policies in the resource-rich region. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

China hails Xinjiang jobs success as criticism mounts

  • Rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • On Thursday the government published a white paper staunchly defending its policy in the region

BEIJING: China lauded the success of its vocational and jobs schemes in the troubled Xinjiang region on Thursday, just days after the US government said they were being operated from facilities run like “concentration camps.”
Beijing has come under intense international criticism over its policies in the resource-rich region, where rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps.
US customs said Monday it would bar a raft of Chinese products from Xinjiang over fears of forced labor, saying “religious and ethnic minorities are... forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom.”
Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told reporters: “This is not a vocational center, it is a concentration camp.”
But Beijing says the centers are for vocational training, necessary for counter terrorism efforts and to provide education for alleviating poverty.
On Thursday the government published a white paper staunchly defending its policy in the region, where it says training programs, work schemes and better education mean life has improved.
The report says Xinjiang has “vigorously implemented employment projects, enhanced vocational training, and expanded employment channels and capacity.”
It says vocational training for millions has improved the quality of the workforce.
“Xinjiang has built a large knowledge-based, skilled and innovative workforce that meets the requirements of the new era,” the report reads.
Training includes teaching written and spoken Mandarin, labor skills and giving knowledge of urban life, according to the report, which says rural people have started businesses or taken employment in factories after state support.
Every year between 2014 and 2019, Xinjiang gave “training sessions” to an average of 1.29 million urban and rural workers, it says, adding that employment policies “meet the people’s needs (and) improve their wellbeing.”
However, the white paper warns there is a low level of vocational skills and says “terrorists, separatists and religious extremists” have encouraged the public not to learn Chinese, to “reject modern science, and refuse to improve their vocational skills.”
Swedish clothing giant H&M said this week it was ending its relationship with a Chinese yarn producer over accusations of “forced labor” in Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.
Beijing has denied claims of forced labor and in Tuesday’s report said it would take “resolute action” against it.
The EU meanwhile has urged China to allow independent observers to travel to the highly surveilled region.
China this week said experts were “welcome” but did not detail if they would be allowed free access to the controversial faciltiies.
State media frequently shows apparently happy vocational students studying or working in the large facilities.
But rights groups have warned of forced detentions and political indoctrination as part of a campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to erase the ethnic group’s identity and culture.
In a white paper on Xinjiang in March, China defended its controversial security crackdown and said nearly 13,000 “terrorists” have been arrested there since 2014.


Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

Updated 25 November 2020

Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

  • UN warns of ‘grave consequences’ for Kabul if officials at global conference cut aid

KABUL: As they huddle around a makeshift fire a few meters away from their tents, a group of men, displaced by decades of war in Afghanistan, recall the number of times former and current government officials pledged to provide basic amenities to millions of refugees during routine visits to their camp.

One man in the group, 42-year-old Shah Tawoos, points at a dirty stream of water which is making its way beneath the rotten tent – his “home” for more than a decade.

“Look at the humidity inside and the mud outside the tent, even dogs can’t and won’t bear this, but we have nowhere to go,” Tawoos told Arab News.

The tent is one of many located in the Charahi Qambar (CQ) camp, on the western fringes of Kabul, where thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) like Tawoos are denied their rights and are continuously threatened with deportation.

“Ministers and other authorities came and went, pledging to help us with houses, but nothing has happened. We do not know where the government spends the national budget and foreign aid,” he said.

According to the Internal Monitoring Displacement Centre (IMDC), the CQ is one of 47 camps that house nearly 3 million IDPs, who had their lives upended either by natural disasters or a fresh bout of violence since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion in 2001.

The displacements were triggered by fighting and attacks involving the Taliban, government and US-led forces, Daesh and other nonstate armed groups.

“In the first half of 2020, there were 117,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence and 30,000 as a result of disasters,” according to the IMDC.

The CQ camp is filled with refugees from Afghanistan’s south where, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 families have fled the fighting between the Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces, specifically in the Helmand province.

The conditions at these camps are deplorable, with IDPs residing in tents either donated by local or foreign relief agencies or in small mud houses built using their resources.

The tents are rotting. Their condition, residents say, gets worse in summer when heavy rain and snow weakens the fabric, resulting in gaping holes.

“Our tents become infested with mosquitoes in the summer heat and unbearably cold in winter times,” Rahmat Gul, another resident of the camp, said.

He laments about the lack of electricity and water supply and highlights the plight of thousands of children who have no access to education or, often, food.

There are other issues as well, Gul says, such as unemployment and poverty, forcing some men and women to beg to make ends meet.

The camp first attracted attention in 2012 after at least 15 IDP children froze to death due to the harsh winter conditions.

The displacements were the topic of discussion once again during a virtual donor conference in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday where ministers from nearly 70 countries and officials of humanitarian organisations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a nation that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led foreign troops and grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We want the participants (in Geneva) to act with caution, take firm measures for accountability and transparency from our government. Otherwise we fear that just like in the past, much of the aid will be squandered either by foreign contractors or officials in our government,” Gul said.

Ahead of the conference which began on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said he hoped for it to generate billions of dollars of aid.

“The outcome of this pledging conference will heavily influence the country’s future development and our path towards self-reliance and peace,” Ghani said during the weekend in Kabul.

It follows a similar event in Belgium in 2016 where donors pledged to extend $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan for the next five years.

However, finance ministry spokesman Shamrooz Khan Masjidi was unable to comment on how much of the pledged aid had been disbursed.

“We would like a major part of the aid to be channeled through government budgets,” he said.

He added that the focus of all future aid would be on building infrastructure, repatriation of refugees and aiding the war displaced.

“Kabul had fulfilled the benchmarks set by donors for the last conference with regards to combating corruption and was open for accountability for the cash it has spent,” he said.

The Geneva meeting comes amid a deadlock in the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, that have been going on since Sept. 12, as well as rising discontent with Ghani’s government at home and abroad due to soaring corruption, weak governance and the alleged squandering of state resources.

A recent report released by US watchdog SIGAR said: “The Afghan government makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.”

Following the SIGAR report and ahead of the Geneva conference, Ghani’s government ordered the formation of another commission to fight graft.

However, Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch, said that the government had “no will for fighting corruption and resorts to symbolic works for drawing the attention at international conferences.”

A survey conducted by the Afghan Civil Society Forum on Sunday said that 90 percent of participants believed that “the government is corrupt.”

Afghanistan’s last permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, said on Monday: “In this time of high corruption, it is extremely important donors demand strong accountability from those who claim to represent our people.”

It’s a thought echoed by UN Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. He also warned of “grave consequences” if the world turned away from Afghanistan.

“Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement, possibly on a larger scale…” he said in a statement on Sunday.