Crackdown in Xinjiang: Where have all the people gone?April 14, 2019
The first thing you notice is the quiet. Then the white strips of paper stretched diagonally across the front doors of stores that look like they were vacated in a hurry. Once you get close enough, you can read the painted serial numbers on the house walls — WB-BUK 1 to 15 on one street — that tell you no one is coming back to these homes, and that many of those who lived there have been detained.
Rather than bustling, some neighbourhoods in the regional capital Urumqi and Kashgar, once the most culturally vibrant city, are deserted, stripped of people and life….Empty streets in Urumqi and Kashgar are an eerie testament to how the security campaign is fraying Xinjiang’s economic and social fabric.
“So many people, mostly the men, were imprisoned for so-called ‘913’ crimes: having forbidden digital content on their phones,” says Alfiya, a Kashgar housewife.
“The economic problems here are huge,” says a Han businessman surnamed Dong, who moved back to Urumqi from the northern province of Liaoning to be closer to his family. “There are not enough people to fill all the open jobs, and there is no one left to buy your goods. Imagine what happens when you remove that many people.”
A huge security presence has smothered dissent but many quietly seethe at the daily indignities. “Why is it that I have to stop at checkpoints but Han Chinese do not? Why is it that I cannot have a passport but other people can?” says Yasinjiang, a Kashgar driver. “Why is it only Uighurs who must be subject to these security practices?”
During a June afternoon, one such Urumqi depot frequented by central Asian traders sat largely empty, its storefronts locked up.