Uyghur detention centers in Xinjiang expanding, researchers find

September 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Researchers at an Australian think tank have found that re-education camps for Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region have expanded in the past year, despite government claims that most detainees had been released.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said in a Sept. 24 report that it had “identified and mapped more than 380 suspected detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, highlighting ‘re-education’ camps, detention centres and prisons that have been newly built or expanded since 2017.”

“The findings of this research contradict Chinese officials’ claims that all ‘trainees’ from so-called vocational training centres had ‘graduated’ by late 2019. Instead, available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory compounds for coerced labour assignments.”

The think tank presented satellite imagery evidence showing construction and expansion at 61 sites since July 2019; half of these, it said, are ‘higher security facilities, which may suggest a shift in usage from the lower-security, ‘re-education centres’ toward higher-security prison-style facilities.”

It added that “at least 70 facilities appear to have been desecuritised by the removal of internal fencing or perimeter walls. This includes 8 camps that show signs of decommissioning, and it is possible they have been closed.”

An estimated 1 million Uyghurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The Chinese government has defended its policy of mass detention and re-education as an appropriate measure against terrorism.

The government at one time denied the camps even existed, but has since shifted to defending its actions as a reasonable response to a national security threat, and claiming they are vocational training centers.

Government officials from the region said in July 2019 that the area’s re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang, said at a July 30 press conference in Beijing that “most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” according to the AP. “More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.

Tuniaz also said that “the majority of personnel who received education and training have returned to society and gone back to their homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The majority have successfully secured employment.”

Uyghurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

A 2019 document from a Xinjiang county leaked to western media earlier this year gave violation of birth control policies as the most common reason for the “re-education” of some 3,000 Uyghurs, often alongside other reasons.

In June an AP investigation found a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party of pregnancy checks and forced abortions, sterilizations, and implantations of IUDs on Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

The US House passed a bill Sept. 22 to ensure goods sold in the country are not made with forced labor from the internment camps, and earlier this year the Trump administration put travel and asset sanctions on several senior officials of the CCP. in Xinjiang for their role in the mass internment of Uyghurs.

The US Commerce Department in October 2019 added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they cooperate in the detention and repression of the Uyghurs.

The repression of Uyghurs is part of a widespread effort by the Chinese government to “Sinicize” religion and culture across the country.

In 2018, the Holy See and Beijing signed a two-year deal to unify the underground Catholic Church in China with the communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and to collaborate on the appointment of bishops in Chinese dioceses. That agreement is expected to be renewed. State officials in various regions of China have continued to remove crosses and demolish church buildings, and underground Catholics and clergy continue to report harassment and detention.

A Sept. 22 report by Adrian Zenz at the Jamestown Foundation said that in the Tibet Autonomous Region hundreds of thousands have been coerced into vocational training or labor camps.

And in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, beginning this month schools are transitioning from teaching three core subjects in Mongolian, to doing so in Mandarin.


Knights of Columbus organize novena for Respect Life Month

September 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced Tuesday a “Novena for the Cause of Life” as part of Respect Life Month, observed in October.

The novena will take place Oct. 4-12. Each day of the novena will include a decade of the rosary, a reflection on a quote from Pope Francis, and a closing prayer to Mary taken from Evangelium vitae, St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life.

“The cause of life is today’s preeminent priority, as Pope Francis indicated when meeting with the US bishops in January,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, according to a Sept. 22 statement.

“The Knights wish to join all Catholics in prayer with Pope Francis for an end to abortion, euthanasia and the many social ills that bring illness, broken families, unhappiness and premature death, especially for the vulnerable.”

The Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month in October and the first Sunday is observed as Respect Life Sunday. During the month, the Church asks Catholics to reflect on the dignity of the person and to take action to spread the pro-life message.

“The theme of this year’s national observance, ‘Live the Gospel of Life,’ says that, with Christ, we are meant to enjoy and foster life, the gift of being fully alive,” said Anderson.

On Respect Life Sunday, priests and deacons are asked by the USCCB to preach on the Church’s teachings on human life during their homilies. The USCCB also encouraged the laity and religious members to pursue activities that contribute toward the pro-life movement.

According to the 2020 Respect Life guide, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides resources to help parishes, families, ministries, and schools to share the pro-life message. Other ministry leaders are urged to use these resources during Bible studies or other ministry gatherings.

The laity and parish staff are encouraged to display the annual “Respect Life Poster” at home, parishes, or in other appropriate public places. The USCCB also suggested that Catholics spend this month in prayer and host an interactive Respect Life activity to help educate others.

Anderson said, as the events of 2020 have taken numerous lives in the United States, abortion continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. He expressed hope that this novena will lead others to be more open to life.

“In 2020, we have lost lives due to the coronavirus pandemic and endured civil unrest, yet abortion remains the leading cause of death in America,” said Anderson. “As the year enters its final months, we are prompted to pray more and with greater vigor that hearts may be more open to life in all of its stages,” he said.


Catholic religious sister and migrant advocate named one of 2020’s ‘Most Influential People’

September 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Sep 24, 2020 / 09:01 am (CNA).- Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, this week was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2020.

Pimentel has for the past several years been a visible and highly active advocate for migrants in need of humanitarian aid at the US-Mexico border.

“It’s amazing how we see human suffering in such magnitude, right across from the United States,” Sister Pimentel told CNA in an October 2019 interview.

“It’s something that we could have handled so [differently]— these are refugees, people who are fleeing violence, asking for protection, and we deny that opportunity to have them come in and wait here.”

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened their first respite center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen in 2014 to provide migrants with basic necessities, including a shower and a bowl of soup.

In need of more space, they later moved to a former nursing home, and eventually in 2019 to a new, larger center in downtown McAllen.

The center has helped hundreds of thousands of migrants over its years of operation, Pimentel says, with donations coming in from around the country and, before the pandemic, many volunteer groups coming to help. 

Pimentel said most of the people they help are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum. In earlier years, border agents would typically drop asylum seekers at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities.

New Migrant Protection Protocols took effect during January 2019, which require migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico, rather than being allowed to come into the US to await their asylum hearing.

Before the new protocols took effect, Pimentel said the Humanitarian Respite Center was receiving close to 1,000 migrants daily, offering basic aid such as food, clothing, and showers.

Catholic Charities’ role changed drastically after the new protocols kicked in, she said, because the number of migrants actually making it to the US dropped dramatically, to between 10-40 people daily in late 2019.

“And in the meantime, they’re stranded there [in Mexico], they’re homeless. It’s the most horrific human suffering that we see happening to these families, exposed to so many dangers and abuses; cartels and things like that. So it is a very sad, dramatic change that we are seeing,” she told CNA.

Donations received at the Respite Center are sorted and distributed to groups working with immigrants along the border, she said. There are several large aid groups working to improve conditions for the migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, right across from Brownsville.

Volunteers working with Catholic Charities frequently went across the border to Matamoros, where the families are camping out, and bring them hygiene items, food, and anything else that they need. There are estimated to be about 650 migrants in the camps currently, down from several thousand at its peak.

The coronavirus pandemic has made helping families along the border even more difficult. In March, President Donald Trump shut down nonessential travel across the US-Mexico border, and indefinitely suspended the asylum system.

In Matamoros, Pimentel says she often would encounter entire families waiting at the border, fleeing persecution in their home countries, who have nothing to eat except what is brought to them by aid groups. Matamoros is one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with frequent kidnappings and murders.

“I really touches my heart to hear that, and to see the children and families hurting so much. It really hurts to see children in such poor conditions,” Pimentel said.

In addition to basic supplies, Catholic Charities was helping to provide legal assistance, workshops, and explanations to the migrants, who often have little idea how the US immigration system works, and have no idea how their hearing will go. Often there is not even a translation available for migrants who do not speak English, she said.

The United Nations refugee agency says in 2019, there were about 70,000 who filed for asylum in the US from Mexico, up from 2,000 in 2014.

Pimentel wrote a July 2020 op-ed in the Washington Post, warning that squalid conditions at the Matamoros camp and a lack of water and sanitary supplies made the camp “a potential outbreak waiting to happen.”

To Pimentel, helping the destitute migrants in the area is part and parcel of the charity that the Catholic faith demands of every believer.

“If we believe in a God of love, a God who tells us that we must welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked— Jesus was very specific in saying ‘Look for me and you will find me in them, in those people who are hurting and suffering,'” she said.

“How else do we want to receive Jesus if he is telling us already: ‘This is where you will find me.’ And so if we don’t do that, I think we are failing to understand Jesus in our lives, and what He is calling us to do.”

The Catholic bishop of Brownsville praised Sister Pimentel’s work Sept. 22 and congratulated her on her distinction.

“Thank you, Sister. You help us all come together in the Valley to face our challenges,
you help us learn how to help each other, how to protect the vulnerable, to not lose hope…and to be a sign of Christ in the world,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Browsville said Sept. 22.

President Trump visited McAllen during January 2019 in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico. Pimentel said after the visit that she was “truly disappointed” that she did not get a chance to speak during a roundtable discussion with the president.

Pimentel said at the time that if she had had the opportunity to speak, she would have emphasized that she understands the importance of border security and keeping the country safe, and that the Border Patrol – with whom she says she has always had a good relationship, and prays for daily – should be supported.

”We also must recognize that there are a lot of families, innocent victims of violence, that are suffering,” she said.

“And we find them here in our community, and we as a community are so generous in responding to help them, to be there for them. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, very compassionate. And that is a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listening to.”