An Orthodox Jewish man in London, England has been organizing regular protests in support of Uighur Muslims outside a branch of the Chinese Embassy to the U.K.
Andrew, who doesn’t want his surname revealed for reasons of personal safety, says he is motivated by history and his family connections to the Second World War Holocaust.
He says the detention centres holding at least one million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in China’s Xinjiang region are all too similar to the Nazi concentration camps that preceded the mass murder of millions of Jews, LGBTQ2 people and ethnic minorities from 1941 to 1945.
“When I saw the satellite images of the concentration camps that the Chinese government can’t hide, I couldn’t stay at home anymore. I had to get up and do something. And that’s why I started protesting,” said Andrew.
“Never before, except once in history, have millions of men, women and children been rounded up and put in concentration camps. And we know how that ended. We said ‘never again.'”
Andrew spoke to Global News during one of his twice-weekly protests, which he began in February 2019.
A person inside the embassy filmed the group of nine protesters and the Global News film crew from an upstairs window.
Some days Andrew is joined by more than 20 fellow protesters, but on other days, he stands outside the embassy alone, with the odd passing motorist beeping their horn in support.
“My wife’s grandparents were either gassed at Auschwitz in the extermination camp, or killed in the concentration camp there,” he said.
“This is not yet industrialized killing. They’re not extermination camps yet –they’re concentration camps at the moment. History shows what’s going to happen.”
British Muslim Zaneb Ali recently joined Andrew for his Tuesday night protests, travelling 90 minutes into London from Berkshire.
“It’s really heartening,” Ali said of seeing a Jewish man protesting in support of Muslims.
“When I saw that he was coming on his own here, I thought, ‘I can’t sit at home and let him protest for human rights abuses that involve people from my community.'”
Some campaigners believe up to three million Uighurs and other minorities are being held against their will or placed into forced labour in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China.
In 2018, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that one million Uighurs were held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
Other estimates since have said the number could be higher.
This week, a BuzzFeed News investigation used satellite images to detail what it says are “scores of massive new prison and internment camps,” built in the past three years.
China says the camps are voluntary vocational education centres, used to counter Islamic extremism.
Beijing denies allegations of torture, children being separated from parents and forced sterilization programs among ethnic Uighurs.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the U.K., has referred to leaked documents detailing the workings of the detention centres as “pure fabrication.”
Some campaigners call what is happening “genocide” or “cultural genocide,” although Western governments have not been using that term “genocide”.
Andrew does not use the term either, “as it has thankfully not yet reached that stage,” he said.
In July, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seized almost 13 imperial tons (11.8 metric tonnes) of hair products, suspected to be made with human hair, that “originated in Xinjiang, China, indicating potential human rights abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment.”
CBP did not provide direct evidence that the hair was from forced child labour or from Uighur people, but said the seizure was “based on information that reasonably indicated that they are manufactured with the use of prison labour.”
“Thirteen tons of Uighurs’ hair represents genocide, represents people’s lives. But where is the outrage from the international media?” asked Rushan Abbas, a Uighur-American and the founder and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs.
Abbas’s sister Gulshan Abbas was taken into detention in 2018 and has not been heard from since.
“There’s absolutely no information on her whereabouts or her conditions of her housing. We don’t know anything. We have not even seen a proof of life,” Abbas from her home in Virginia.
Abbas says countries like Canada and the U.K. should join the U.S. in imposing sanctions on Chinese government officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“The U.S. is actually doing something, but the majority of the other countries are really disappointing me. The reason that many countries are silenced and they’re not taking an action is, again, like I repeatedly say, it’s China’s money,” said Abbas.
“Where is United Nations? Where is the Organisation of Islamic Corporation? They’re all quiet because China is basically buying out the compliance of the entire world community.”
Abbas believes the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing present an opportunity for the world to act.
She’s calling for a sponsor boycott and says if the International Olympic Committee doesn’t strip China of the right to host the games, countries should boycott the event, too.
Speaking in the House of Commons on July 8, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada stands with the Uighurs.
“We are deeply disturbed by the reports, as everyone in the House should be,” he said. “We are consulting with the international community. We will speak up. We will stand up for human rights with the Uighurs and with all the ethnic minorities in China.”
When asked if Canada would impose sanctions on China to protest the treatment of the detained Uighur people, Champagne said: “We are considering all the options when it comes to standing up for human rights.”
In June, Canada was among 28 countries that jointly urged China to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights “meaningful access” to Xinjiang.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said: “This troubling issue has recently been discussed during a call with our Five-eyes allies… We have publicly and consistently called on the Chinese government to end the repression in Xinjiang. Our position has been relayed directly to Chinese officials.”