The Chinese Communist Party transported Uighurs from the predominantly Muslim province to key technology and textile factories when China had imposed quarantine and travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic. Videos posted on Chinese social media show the forced migration and the footage was then collected by exiles from behind China’s digital censorship restrictions.
The videos portray Uighurs crowded on buses and in airports.
They are dressed in work uniforms in orange, red and blue.
President of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, some of the workers suffered much bleaker transport.
He said: “People were transferred by trains, with blacked-out windows with bars across and with black sacks on their heads.
“In some cases they’re transferred incredibly long distances and their family members have no idea where they’ve gone.
“Cities were quarantined in lockdown. Chinese workers were asked to return to work, but many refused.
“So the government had a huge number of Uighurs transferred to other provinces to locations where they needed workers.”
Beijing has detained more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic Turkic Muslims, holding them in “re-education” facilities for what they describe as counter-terrorism measures.
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The province’s capital, Urumqi, went into lockdown towards the end of July.
Authorities cancelled most flights, told residents to remain in their homes and stopped public transport.
A local resident told Radio Free Asia: “Barricades have been erected on every corner and they are saying that whoever leaps over them will be taken for ‘re-education’.”
The videos which showed the Uighur workers being transported was posted on Douyin, a local version of the social media site TikTok.
Uighur exiles who have kept their Chinese phones were able to access the videos behind Beijing’s digital curtain.
Many of the exiles were watching the footage in hope of finding their missing relatives.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Aspi) investigated the forced labour of Uighurs earlier this year.
Its report titled Uighurs for Sale recorded how workers are bought like chattels and transported to factories across China linked to supply chains for global brands.
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the leading analyst on the investigation, described a “state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain”.
She wrote: “The ‘re-education’ campaign appears to be entering a new phase, as government officials now claim that all ‘trainees’ have ‘graduated’.”