Forced Labour and Detainment Transfer Timeline

This timeline shows the steps Chinese authorities took to present the internment camp system as ‘vocational training centres.’ Under international pressure, state spokespersons have announced the camps as “closed” but in fact the detainees have either been transferred into long-term prisoners or have become forced labourers.

  • Development of internment camp network in Xinjiang begins. Approximately 1.8 million people are believed to have been held in the vast network of camps.

  • Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Officials deny the existence of internment camps, or alternatively justify them as poverty alleviation and stability maintenance efforts.

  • Beijing recasts the internment camps as a form of aid and education.”

  • Under increasing international pressure, authorities begin releasing select prisoners into house arrest.

  • XUAR officials announce that its vocational and educational centres are closed and the “re-education trainees” have graduated.

  • To fend off international condemnation, Chinese authorities transfer camp detainees to prisons after handing them long sentences.

  • Muslim minorities within Xinjiang and other Inner China provinces are transferred into factories. Between 2017 and 2019, an estimated 80,000 Uyghurs have been transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories across China under a central government policy known as Xinjiang Aid (援疆).

  • The labour transfer of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities continue within Western China as the government proclaims that there are “no new cases of COVID-19.”

  • New evidence uncovered by the New York Times reveals that Uyghur labourers, many who are interned forcibly, are involved in making personal protective equipment that are shipped all around the world.



Gene Bunin, “Detainees Are Trickling Out of Xinjiang’s Camps,Foreign Policy, 18 January 2019.

Gene Bunin, “,

Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers, “China Said It Closed Muslim Detention Camps. There’s Reason to Doubt That,The New York Times, 9 August 2019.

Emily Feng,  “China recasts Uighur internment policy as ‘vocational education,Financial Times, 15 October 2018.

Full transcript: Interview with Xinjiang government chief on counterterrorism, vocational education and training in Xinjiang,Xinhuanet, 16 October 2018.

Shohret Hoshur, “Xinjiang County Sends Uyghur Camp Detainees to Prison, Interior of China,” Radio Free Asia, 19 March 2020.

Liu Xin, “Xinjiang policies justified,” Global Times, 13 August 2018.

Liu Xin, “Counter-terror effort a must,” Radio Free Asia, 19 March 2020.

Austin Ramzy, “Xinjiang Returns to Work, but Coronavirus Worries Linger in China,” The New York Times, 30 March 2020.

Trainees in Xinjiang education, training program have all graduated: official,Xinhuanet, 9 December 2019.

Xiao Muyi et al., “Wearing a Mask? It May Come From China’s Controversial Labor Program,” The New York Times, 19 July 2020.

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu et al., “Uyghurs for sale,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 1 March 2020.