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China’s Camps Have Forced Labor And Growing US Market


This is Part 4 of a BuzzFeed News investigation. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

This project was supported by the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism, the Pulitzer Center, and the Open Technology Fund.

ALMATY — China has built more than 100 new facilities in Xinjiang where it can not only lock people up, but also force them to work in dedicated factory buildings right on site, BuzzFeed News can reveal based on government records, interviews, and hundreds of satellite images.

In August, BuzzFeed News uncovered hundreds of compounds in Xinjiang bearing the hallmarks of prisons or detention camps, many built during the last three years in a rapid escalation of China’s campaign against Muslim minorities including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others. A new analysis shows that at least 135 of these compounds also hold factory buildings. Forced labor on a vast scale is almost certainly taking place inside facilities like these, according to researchers and interviews with former detainees.

Factories across Xinjiang — both inside and outside the camps — tend to share similar characteristics. They are typically long and rectangular, and their metal roofs are usually brightly colored — often blue, sometimes red. In contrast to the masonry and concrete of typical detention buildings, the factories have steel frames, which can be erected within as little as a month. The steel frame is sturdy enough to hold the roof without interior columns, leaving more space inside for large machinery or assembly lines. Some of the biggest factory buildings have strips of skylights to let light in.

Collectively, the factory facilities identified by BuzzFeed News cover more than 21 million square feet — nearly four times the size of the Mall of America. (Ford’s historic River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, once the largest industrial complex in the world, is 16 million square feet.)

And they are growing in a way that mirrors the rapid expansion of the mass detention campaign, which has ensnared more than 1 million people since it began in 2016. Fourteen million square feet of new factories were built in 2018 alone.

Two former detainees told BuzzFeed News they had worked in factories while they were detained. One of them, Gulzira Auelhan, said she and other women traveled by bus to a factory where they would sew gloves. Asked if she was paid, she simply laughed.

“They created this evil place and they destroyed my life,” she said.

The former detainees said they were never given a choice about working, and that they earned a pittance or no pay at all. “I felt like I was in hell,” Dina Nurdybai, who was detained in 2017 and 2018, told BuzzFeed News. Before her confinement, Nurdybai ran a small garment business. At a factory inside the internment camp where she was held, she said she worked in a cubicle that was locked from the outside, sewing pockets onto school uniforms. “They created this evil place and they destroyed my life,” she said.

In response to questions about this article, the Chinese consulate in New York quoted a worker from Xinjiang’s Karakax County who called allegations of forced labor in the region “slander” while speaking at a government press conference, saying villagers in the region are earning higher salaries and learning new skills. “We hope everyone can distinguish right from wrong, respect the facts and do not be deceived by rumors,” the consulate added.

Xinjiang’s industry is booming, and the region has one of the fastest GDP growth rates in China. Xinjiang exports a range of products, from clothing to machinery, and the US is one of the region’s fastest-growing markets. Xinjiang’s factories produce many goods that eventually make their way to US consumers. Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola, among others, lobbied Congress this year to water down a bill that would ban the import of products made with forced labor there. (Apple has said it did not try to weaken the measure, and Nike has said it “did not lobby against” it.) The bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in September, but the Senate has yet to debate it.

“Corporations should stop producing in, and sourcing from, Xinjiang,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “There is no way to produce responsibly in the region until the forced labor and broader repression ends.”

Nova and other labor rights advocates, as well as experts who have examined the abuses in Xinjiang, argue that forced labor is so widespread in the region that no company that manufactures there could conclude that its supply chain is free from it. That would mean that US consumers have no real way of knowing whether the goods they purchase from Xinjiang are tainted.


Greg Baker / Getty Images

This photo taken on June 4, 2019, shows people walking past a screen showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang region.

The Chinese government in Xinjiang surveils people so thoroughly and monitors interviews so closely that it is nearly impossible to independently assess if any one factory relies on forced labor. This is especially true given that economic programs, designed to move people out of poverty by moving rural farmworkers into factory jobs, effectively give cover for the government to conceal why a person might be working far from their home. But when factories are located inside internment compounds — cut off from the world by high walls and barbed wire — it beggars belief to claim workers are there willingly.

Detention camp factories are woven deeply into Xinjiang’s economy. The Washington, DC–based nonprofit research institute C4ADS compared the locations of the factories identified by BuzzFeed News to a database that compiles address information from China’s government registry for businesses. C4ADS identified 1,500 Chinese companies located at or right by the factories. Of those, 92 listed “import/export” as part of the scope of their business. BuzzFeed News found further information about these companies in corporate documents, state media reports, and other public data. According to trade data dating back to 2016, some of these companies have exported goods all over the world, including Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Panama, and France. One company sent pants to California.

One of these firms is Xinjiang Jihua Seven-Five-Five-Five Occupational Wear, which makes military uniforms. It has counted the People’s Liberation Army, the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, and China’s Public Security bureau among its customers, producing hundreds of thousands of pieces of clothing each year.

In its parent company’s 2019 annual report, the company is explicit about its participation in labor transfer programs. The company transferred at least 45 ethnic minorities “who do not speak Chinese” from southern Xinjiang to work, the report says. They stayed in shared rooms holding three or four people, according to the report, and they received a monthly food stipend of 360 yuan (about $55).

An article in the state-controlled China News Service said the company’s workers at its Hejing branch were laboring overtime to fulfill a clothing order for protective coveralls, having already skipped a vacation that the factory manager said was offered last year. The workers also attend “bilingual night school” to learn Chinese. Every Monday, they hold a flag-raising ceremony and sing the praises of the Communist Party’s policies as well as “socialist thought with Chinese characteristics in the Xi Jinping new era.”

The way these workers were treated tracks with China’s known behavior in the region. The government’s anti-poverty campaign moves impoverished ethnic minorities referred to as “surplus labor” to jobs ranging from picking cotton to sewing clothing. Local policy documents refer to these workers as having “lazy thinking” and praise the government for “creating an atmosphere that labor is glorious and laziness is shameful,” according to recent research on Xinjiang from the German scholar Adrian Zenz.

Zenz and other researchers say these “labor transfers” can be a front for forced labor, especially in an environment where Muslim minorities live in fear of being arbitrarily locked up. As part of its campaign targeting ethnic minorities in the region, the government has also crushed education in minority languages. Dozens of ex-detainees told BuzzFeed News they were forced to study Chinese in internment camps and regularly praise the ruling Communist Party.

One of Xinjiang Jihua’s registered addresses matches the location of a large complex of internment facilities, which together can hold 11,700 people. This sprawling installation lies just over 3.5 miles from the center of Hejing county, in an isolated area bounded by empty plots of land and an industrial estate to the north and farmland to the south. Six blue-roofed factory buildings sit in their own compound right in the middle of the complex. They appear to be linked directly to adjacent detention buildings via a gate in the wall.


Planet Labs

A camp in Hejing county with six factories.

Xinjiang Jihua did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another company, Hetian Yudu Handicrafts, is registered inside a compound in Lop County in southern Xinjiang; satellite photos show it bears the telltale signs of an internment camp. A state media article about labor transfer programs in the area quotes a Uighur woman, who went to work there weaving carpets, promising to earn a “surplus” for the company. Hetian Yudu did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Labor transfer for Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Xinjiang’s other minority groups extend beyond the region to other parts of China. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra-based think tank that has published research documenting human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in March identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces using Uighur and Kazakh workers from Xinjiang under a government labor transfer program. Refusing these work assignments is “extremely difficult,” the institute found, because they “are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination.”

In many cases, Chinese language state media articles show photos of migrant workers who appear to be ethnic minorities boarding buses or working on assembly lines. The articles say that they’re participating in a poverty alleviation program. But they’re subject to strict controls and constant surveillance, and live in fear of being sent to camps or otherwise punished if they don’t comply. After work, they must participate in “patriotic education,” according to former detainees and Chinese language news articles about the programs.

A white paper published by the Chinese government in September offers clues into the scale of the program, saying the average “relocation of surplus labor” per year topped 2.76 million people.

According to state media reports, efforts to alleviate poverty in Xinjiang comprise a wide range of industries ranging from textile factories and food processing to livestock slaughter and cotton farming. It’s unclear what portion of workers in these programs are being forced to work, underpaid, or otherwise mistreated. But experts say the number is large and growing.

“Research suggests that some of those transferred to work are not willing and are severely underpaid, raising concerns about forced labor, potentially at a significant scale,” the Washington, DC–based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies found. The US Department of Labor estimated that 100,000 Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are working in forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that promotes ethical standards for cotton producers, told the BBC this month that it had stopped auditing and certifying farms in Xinjiang in part because the poverty alleviation schemes cast the shadow of forced labor over the entire industry there.

The abuses in Xinjiang may affect the supply chains of some of the world’s most recognizable brands. In its March report, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute also identified 82 multinational companies with suppliers that used Uighur workers outside Xinjiang as part of a labor transfer program, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Dell, Apple, Amazon, H&M, Nike, Nintendo, General Motors, and others.

Some brands said they stopped working with those suppliers this year, according to the Institute’s report. Others said they had no contractual relationships with suppliers involved in labor transfer programs, “but no brands were able to rule out a link further down their supply chain,” the report says. Apple said in July that it had found no evidence of forced labor on its production lines.


Ekaterina Anchevskaya for BuzzFeed News

Dina Nurdybai in her sewing workshop at her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2020.

Nurdybai turned 28 this year. She’s a busy woman, with a toddler she dotes on and a fledgling garment business she’s started in her new home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In person she is fresh-faced, with perfectly microbladed eyebrows and wisps of bright green shadow brushed across her eyelids.

Her ordeal started in 2017. At the time, she was running a tailoring shop and a second thriving business selling traditional Kazakh-made clothing in China, called Kunikai Clothing. The company employed about 30 people and specialized in the intricate embroidery found on traditional Kazakh clothing, even offering training and consulting on the complex designs, according to public records. A photo that year shows her posing at a trade expo in the regional capital of Ürümqi, wearing a sleek black sheath dress and big dark sunglasses. She was hands-on in her factory — another old photo shows her explaining to workers how to cut fabric, the cuts marked with a chalked-on dotted line.


Courtesy Nurdybai via RFA

Nurdybai (left) demonstrates how to cut fabric to workers at a trade expo.

One night in October 2017, she returned from work so burned out that she immediately turned her phone off and collapsed into bed. She later found out that the police were looking for her that night and had phoned several of her relatives to try and reach her. The next morning, they called again, and then came to her door.

She was taken to a camp not far from where she lived in the county of Nilka, located in northeast Xinjiang, near the border with Kazakhstan. Located in the Kashgar River Valley, Nilka is small and remote, and manual labor is embedded in its history — one of its few tourist sites are the ruins of an ancient copper mine.

The camp was growing quickly. It seemed to Nurdybai that dozens of people were coming in each day, often wearing hoods so they could not see. “You could hear the clinking of their shackles as they came in,” she said.

There was no heating, and she shivered all the time in her thin uniform. There were 16 women in her dorm room. Inside, she was given a book of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speeches. Instead of running her tailoring shop or fulfilling clothing orders, she would now spend three and a half hours each day studying Xi’s speeches. She couldn’t understand why. Soon enough her days would be filled with labor.

BuzzFeed News; Source: Alison Killing

Forced labor has a long history in Xinjiang that predates the detention campaign. Some lower-security prisons were linked to farms, while many high-security prisons contained heavy industrial facilities, such as a smelting plant for lead and zinc, fertilizer plants, and coal and uranium mines. A few contained buildings for light manufacturing.

Factories started appearing in the makeshift camps of the early detention campaign in spring 2017. Often they appeared as a single factory wedged onto the site wherever there was room, squashed between the existing buildings, or built on the sports field of a former school. At the same time, new and expanding high-security facilities also added factories, typically in larger numbers.

With the explosion of factory-building in 2018, new patterns emerged. The piecemeal addition of factory buildings on cramped existing sites continued. But the detention compounds on the edge of cities, which had more room, expanded to accommodate new factories that were typically arranged in a neat grid and often separated from the main compound — by a fence, or even a road with barbed wire walkways connecting the two. The factory area often had a separate entrance from the surrounding roads, allowing raw materials to be delivered and finished goods to be picked up without disturbing the wider camp.

While some of the new factories have been built in higher-security facilities, they are more often found in lower-security compounds, and they appear to be for light industry — manufacturing clothes rather than smelting zinc or mining. Much of the construction since 2017 has been concentrated in Xinjiang’s south and west: the regions with the highest numbers of Uighur and Kazakh people.

Hotan prefecture, for instance, contains nearly a third of the factories built between the start of 2017 and the end of 2020. Two counties within it — Hotan and Lop — saw 1.9 million square feet and 1.8 million square feet of factories built there respectively during that time period.


BuzzFeed News; Source: Alison Killing

Camps with factories in Hotan Prefecture.

Forced labor in Xinjiang ramped up in 2018, according to researchers and news reports. One ethnic Kazakh factory owner from northern Xinjiang, who asked that her name and company be withheld out of fear of retaliation, described the government’s relentless efforts to round up workers that year. BuzzFeed News was able to verify details about her company’s registration. “I was an entrepreneur. I had a small garment factory,” she said. “I had to go through a lot of bureaucracy, but I did it.”

In 2018, police officers visited her factory five times, asking her to recommend workers to be “reeducated” in order to meet a quota. They told her to look for behavioral slights — using a ceramic bowl with Uyghur-language writing on the bottom, for instance, or repeatedly wearing a headscarf for women.

“We had heard that mass detention had occurred, that people were disappearing into these schools. We didn’t know much but we knew that it wasn’t a good place.”

All five times, she managed to fob them off, offering bribes and excuses.

The business owner had heard rumors that the internment camps were not for education, as the government claimed, but mass detention. “We had heard that mass detention had occurred, that people were disappearing into these schools. We didn’t know much but we knew that it wasn’t a good place,” she said. She was afraid of being sent to a camp herself, but she could not bear to hand over the names of her workers either. “I never sent a single person to the camp,” she said, a note of pride creeping into her voice.

Government officials also told the entrepreneur about poverty alleviation programs, saying that people could get jobs in other parts of the country, which ethnic Kazakhs sometimes call “inner China.” A group of people from her village departed for one of these programs, she said. They returned in six months and told her they had been paid much less than they were originally promised, she said.


BuzzFeed News; Google Earth

The camp at Nilka on June 27, 2019.

By May 2018, Nurdybai was moved to another camp in Nilka County — one of several in which she’d been held. That summer, the camp contained two residential buildings and several blue-roofed factories, with two more under construction, satellite images show. The first buildings in the compound — two five-story residential buildings and 11 factories — had likely been built by late 2015. By the time Nurdybai arrived, an additional 15 factories had been added, covering the grassy field at the northern end of the site.

Much later, after she had moved to Kazakhstan, Nurdybai found the location of the camp herself on Google Earth. It looked strangely familiar. Yet, by then, it had grown even more.

In October 2019, construction started on four more factories, but the workers only finished building the steel frame before the first snow arrived in the second week of November and they had to stop work. They finished by May of this year, and three further factories were added this fall. There are now 33 factory buildings in the compound. Together, they cover 428,705 square feet, an area larger than seven football fields.

Nurdybai stayed at the camp for a couple of months before she was ordered to work in one of the factories in the camp. When officials realized she had worked in the garment industry in the past, she was told to teach other women how to sew clothes — school uniforms, she remembered. She taught them how to sew square pockets on the tops of the tunics and how to sew a collar straight.

“It was a huge place. There were so many women in there. They were all like me — prisoners,” she said.

She said she was paid a salary of 9 yuan — about $1.38 — in a month, far less than prevailing wages outside the walls of the detention camp.

It was a short walk to work — the distance from the residential buildings to the nearest factory was only 25 yards or so, while the farthest, on the opposite side of the site, was still just five minutes away. The women would work from 8 a.m. to noon, she said, and after lunch, again from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. After the nine-hour day, they were required to take classes back in the building where they stayed, memorizing and repeating Chinese Communist Party propaganda and studying Mandarin Chinese.

The factory was equipped with new sewing machines, Nurdybai remembered. In fact, all the equipment inside looked new. But there were clues that those who worked there were not doing it by choice. Pairs of scissors were chained to each work table to prevent the women from taking them to the dorms, where they could, in theory, use them to harm themselves or stab the camp’s guards. And there were cameras everywhere, Nurdybai said, even in the bathrooms.

Inside the factory building, the floor was divided up, grid style, Nurdybai said. It was not like the factories that she had seen while running her own business. “There were cubicles at about chin height so you couldn’t see or talk to others. Each had a door, which locked,” she said, from the outside. Each cubicle had between 25 and 30 people, she said.

On one occasion, one of the camp staff justified the locked cubicles by saying, “These people are criminals, they can seriously harm you.” Police patrolled the floor of the factory.

Nurdybai ate with the other workers and slept in the same quarters as them. But, she said, her position as a trainer gave her one special privilege: She had a key fob with which she could open the doors to the bathroom. Others had to ask for permission to go.


Ekaterina Anchevskaya For Buzzfeed News

Dina Nurdybai working in her sewing workshop at her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Feb. 25, 2020.

Near the end of Nurdybai’s time in internment camps in September 2018, police officers finally told her what she was said to have done wrong: She had downloaded an illegal app called WhatsApp. She was later released and told her “education” was over. Her boyfriend at the time brought her a bouquet of flowers, as if she had just come home from a long trip.

But in the time she spent in the camps, her life had fallen apart. She owed a bank 70,000 yuan, or about $10,700, in business loans, on which she had been unable to make payments while she was detained.

Her clothing orders, too, had sat unfulfilled. “They took everything from my factory — expensive materials — they took it,” she said. “My customers, I had to pay them back.” She began selling off her possessions, even her car, to try and pay down the loan.

“I’ve learned to cherish my freedom.”

Eventually, she saved up enough money to leave China and immigrate to Kazakhstan. She is still paying back her loans in China, though she managed to negotiate them down with the bank. Mostly she tries to take things one day at a time. “I’ve learned to cherish my freedom,” she said. “Before all this, I was successful. I had money. But now I understand that money is nothing without freedom.”

She started a small garment business again. She had a baby. And she began speaking out about what had happened to her, telling the story of how she lost everything she had worked for.

She went to the offices of Atajurt, a small human rights NGO located in a worn-down building in central Almaty. It didn’t have much in the way of resources — on a visit this year, a conference room door was broken and had to be held shut by a strip of red ribbon. But it had quickly become a hub for ex-detainees from Xinjiang’s camps, who often came to record their stories for YouTube, and to speak to journalists and university professors visiting the city.

Nurdybai’s workshop is in a small two-floor building tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Almaty, lined with houses and a neighborhood school. Inside, there’s just one window, with a narrow staircase whose railing is painted white. On the first floor, her workshop was strewn with scraps of fabric in purple and red, with two sewing machines set on tables.

She was a healthy woman before her internment. But after she was detained she developed a hernia, which still causes stabbing pains in her abdomen — she suspected she got it from being forced to sit for long hours while studying Chinese. Worse, she began to get migraines, which started with searing pain that moved up the back of her neck. She wondered if the ice-cold showers she had been forced to take could be to blame.

“I worked hard for 10 years to succeed,” she said. “I lost everything, including my health.” ●

Ekaterina Anchevskaya contributed reporting.



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Uighur Woman Tursunay Ziyawudun, Who Was Detained In Xinjiang Camps, Arrives In US


A Uighur woman who was detained at internment camps in China’s Xinjiang region has arrived safely in the United States, a Uighur human rights group said on Saturday, ending a period of monthslong uncertainty over whether she would be forcibly repatriated back to China from her home in Kazakhstan.

Tursunay Ziyawudun had initially settled in Kazakhstan with her husband, who is a Kazakh citizen, after spending a grueling 10 months locked up without ever being charged with a crime. But last year, the Kazakh government told her she would have to return to China to apply for a new visa as a procedural matter. Returning to the country would have likely meant she would be detained again.

BuzzFeed News reported on her case in February.

“We are tremendously relieved that Tursunay is now safe in the United States,” said Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, in a statement, saying that she had already arrived safely, and that his organization is helping her resettle and access medical treatment for a serious health condition.

China has detained more than a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in mass internment camps since late 2016, according to independent estimates. The government has said the detentions were for “vocational training,” but former detainees, including Ziyawudun, have made clear they were brought to camps by force and said they endured humiliation, hunger, beatings, and regular interrogations, among other abuses.

The Chinese government claimed in December that those who went through the “vocational training” program had “graduated,” but a recent BuzzFeed News investigation found instead that construction of large, purpose-built internment camps and prisons is ongoing.

Ziyawudun’s lawyer said she believed the press coverage helped her case.

“Her situation required that her story be made public,” Aina Shormanbayeva, Ziyawudun’s lawyer in Kazakhstan, told BuzzFeed News.

Ziyawudun is among a small number of former detainees who have left China and spoken publicly about their experiences. The Washington, DC–based Uyghur Human Rights Project said her house had been set on fire “in suspicious circumstances” in February, after she started speaking out about her story. (Ziyawudun’s lawyer confirmed her house had burned down at the time.)

She later traveled to Istanbul for medical treatment, Shormanbayeva said, before receiving permission to travel to the US. She is still in the process of seeking refugee status in Kazakhstan, but Shormanbayeva said there are doubts that Kazakh government will grant her that status.

But, she added, the risk of Ziyawudun being forcibly sent back to China is gone.

“I hope that in the US she will be safe,” her lawyer said.



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Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors Of China’s Detention Camps


This is Part 2 of a BuzzFeed News investigation. For Part 1, click here.

This project was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.

ALMATY — Maybe the police officers call you first. Or maybe they show up at your workplace and ask your boss if they can talk to you. In all likelihood they will come for you at night, after you’ve gone to bed.

In Nursaule’s case, they turned up at her home just as she was fixing her husband a lunch of fresh noodles and lamb.

For the Uighurs and Kazakhs in China’s far west who have found themselves detained in a sprawling system of internment camps, what happens next is more or less the same. Handcuffed, often with a hood over their heads, they are brought by the hundreds to the tall iron gates.

Thrown into the camps for offenses that range from wearing a beard to having downloaded a banned app, upward of a million people have disappeared into the secretive facilities, according to independent estimates. The government has previously said the camps are meant to provide educational or vocational training to Muslim minorities. Satellite images, such as those revealed in a BuzzFeed News investigation on Thursday, offer bird’s eye hints: guard towers, thick walls, and barbed wire. Yet little is still known about day-to-day life inside.

BuzzFeed News interviewed 28 former detainees from the camps in Xinjiang about their experiences. Most spoke through an interpreter. They are, in many ways, the lucky ones — they escaped the country to tell their tale. All of them said that when they were released, they were made to sign a written agreement not to disclose what happens inside. (None kept copies — most said they were afraid they would be searched at the border when they tried to leave China.) Many declined to use their names because, despite living abroad, they feared reprisals on their families. But they said they wanted to make the world aware of how they were treated.

The stories about what detention is like in Xinjiang are remarkably consistent — from the point of arrest, where people are swept away in police cars, to the days, weeks, and months of abuse, deprivation, and routine humiliation inside the camps, to the moment of release for the very few who get out. They also offer insight into the structure of life inside, from the surveillance tools installed — even in restrooms — to the hierarchy of prisoners, who said they were divided into color-coded uniforms based on their assumed threat to the state. BuzzFeed News could not corroborate all details of their accounts because it is not possible to independently visit camps and prisons in Xinjiang.

“They treated us like livestock. I wanted to cry. I was ashamed, you know, to take off my clothes in front of others.”

Their accounts also give clues into how China’s mass internment policy targeting its Muslim minorities in Xinjiang has evolved, partly in response to international pressure. Those who were detained earlier, particularly in 2017 and early 2018, were more likely to find themselves forced into repurposed government buildings like schoolhouses and retirement homes. Those who were detained later, from late 2018, were more likely to have seen factories being built, or even been forced to labor in them, for no pay but less oppressive detention.

In response to a list of questions for this article, the Chinese Consulate in New York said that “the basic principle of respecting and protecting human rights in accordance with China’s Constitution and law is strictly observed in these centers to guarantee that the personal dignity of trainees is inviolable.”

“The centers are run as boarding facilities and trainees can go home and ask for leave to tend to personal business. Trainees’ right to use their own spoken and written languages is fully protected … the customs and habits of different ethnic groups are fully respected and protected,” the consulate added, saying that “trainees” are given halal food for free and that they can decide whether to “attend legitimate religious activities” when they go home.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to several requests for comment.

Nursaule’s husband was watching TV the day she was detained in late 2017 near Tacheng city, she said. She was in the kitchen when there was a sharp knock at the front door. She opened it to find a woman wearing ordinary clothing flanked by two uniformed male police officers, she said. The woman told her she was to be taken for a medical checkup.

At first, Nursaule, a sixtysomething Kazakh woman whose presence is both no-nonsense and grandmotherly, was glad. Her legs had been swollen for a few days, and she had been meaning to go to the doctor to have them looked at.

Nursaule’s stomach began to rumble. The woman seemed kind, so Nursaule asked if she could return to pick her up after she’d eaten lunch. The woman agreed. But then she said something strange.

“She told me to take off my earrings and necklace before going with them, that I shouldn’t take my jewelry where I was going,” Nursaule said. “It was only then that I started to feel afraid.”

After the police left, Nursaule called her grown-up daughter to tell her what happened, hoping she’d have some insight. Her daughter told her not to worry — but something in her tone told Nursaule there was something wrong. She began to cry. She couldn’t eat a bite of her noodles. Many hours later, after the police had interrogated her for hours, she realized that she was starving. But the next meal she would eat would be within the walls of an internment camp.

Like Nursaule, those detained all reported being given a full medical checkup before being taken to the camps. At the clinic, samples of their blood and urine were collected, they said. They also said they sat for interviews with police officers, answering questions on their foreign travel, personal beliefs, and religious practices.

“They asked me, ‘Are you a practicing Muslim?’ ‘Do you pray?’” said Kadyrbek Tampek, a livestock farmer from the Tacheng region, which lies in the north of Xinjiang. “I told them that I have faith, but I don’t pray.” Afterward, the police officers took his phone. Tampek, a soft-spoken 51-year-old man who belongs to Xinjiang’s ethnic Kazakh minority, was first sent to a camp in December 2017 and said he was later forced to work as a security guard.

After a series of blood tests, Nursaule was taken to a separate room at the clinic, where she was asked to sign some documents she couldn’t understand and press all 10 of her fingers on a pad of ink to make fingerprints. Police interrogated her about her past, and afterward, she waited for hours. Finally, past midnight, a Chinese police officer told her she would be taken to “get some education.” Nursaule tried to appeal to the Kazakh officer translating for him — she does not speak Chinese — but he assured her she would only be gone 10 days.

After the medical exam and interview, detainees were taken to camps. Those who had been detained in 2017 and early in 2018 described a chaotic atmosphere when they arrived — often in tandem with dozens or even hundreds of other people, who were lined up for security screenings inside camps protected by huge iron gates. Many said they could not recognize where they were because they had arrived in darkness, or because police placed hoods over their heads. But others said they recognized the buildings, often former schools or retirement homes repurposed into detention centers. When Nursaule arrived, the first thing she saw were the heavy iron doors of the compound, flanked by armed police.

“I recognized those dogs. They looked like the ones the Germans had.”

Once inside, they were told to discard their belongings as well as shoelaces and belts — as is done in prisons to prevent suicide. After a security screening, detainees said they were brought to a separate room to put on camp uniforms, often walking through a passageway covered with netting and flanked by armed guards and their dogs. “I recognized those dogs,” said one former detainee who declined to share his name. He used to watch TV documentaries about World War II, he said. “They looked like the ones the Germans had.”

“We lined up and took off our clothes to put on blue uniforms. There were men and women together in the same room,” said 48-year-old Parida, a Kazakh pharmacist who was detained in February 2018. “They treated us like livestock. I wanted to cry. I was ashamed, you know, to take off my clothes in front of others.”

More than a dozen former detainees confirmed to BuzzFeed News that prisoners were divided into three categories, differentiated by uniform colors. Those in blue, like Parida and the majority of the people interviewed for this article, were considered the least threatening. Often, they were accused of minor transgressions, like downloading banned apps to their phones or having traveled abroad. Imams, religious people, and others considered subversive to the state were placed in the strictest group — and were usually shackled even inside the camp. There was also a mid-level group.

The blue-clad detainees had no interaction with people in the more “dangerous” groups, who were often housed in different sections or floors of buildings, or stayed in separate buildings altogether. But they could sometimes see them through the window, being marched outside the building, often with their hands cuffed. In Chinese, the groups were referred to as “ordinary regulation,” “strong regulation,” and “strict regulation” detainees.

For several women detainees, a deeply traumatic humiliation was having their long hair cut to chin length. Women were also barred from wearing traditional head coverings, as they are in all of Xinjiang.

“I wanted to keep my hair,” said Nursaule. “Keeping long hair, for a Kazakh woman, is very important. I had grown it since I was a little girl, I had never cut it in my life. Hair is the beauty of a woman.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “They wanted to hack it off.”

After the haircut, putting her hand to the ends of her hair, she cried.


Thomas Peter / Reuters

A perimeter fence at the entrance to what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, Sept. 4, 2018.

From the moment they stepped inside the compounds, privacy was gone. Aside from the overwhelming presence of guards, each room was fitted with two video cameras, all the former detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed News confirmed. Cameras could also be seen in bathrooms, and throughout the building. In some camps, according to more than a dozen former detainees, dorms were outfitted with internal and external doors, one of which required an iris or thumbprint scan for guards to enter. The internal doors sometimes had small windows through which bowls of food could be passed.

Periodically, the detainees were subject to interrogations, where they’d have to repeat again and again the stories of their supposed transgressions — religious practices, foreign travel, and online activities. These sessions were carefully documented by interrogators, they said. And they often resulted in detainees writing “self-criticism.” Those who could not read and write were given a document to sign.

None of the former detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed News said they contemplated escaping — this was not a possibility.

Camp officials would observe the detainees’ behavior during the day using cameras, and communicate with detainees over intercom.

Camps were made up of multiple buildings, including dorms, canteens, shower facilities, administrative buildings, and, in some cases, a building where visitors were hosted. But most detainees said they saw little outside their own dorm room buildings. Detainees who arrived early in the government’s campaign — particularly in 2017 — reported desperately crowded facilities, where people sometimes slept two to a twin bed, and said new arrivals would come all the time.

Dorm rooms were stacked with bunk beds, and each detainee was given a small plastic stool. Several former detainees said that they were forced to study Chinese textbooks while sitting rigidly on the stools. If they moved their hands from their knees or slouched, they’d be yelled at through the intercom.

Detainees said there was a shared bathroom. Showers were infrequent, and always cold.

Some former detainees said there were small clinics within the camps. Nursaule remembered being taken by bus to two local hospitals in 2018. The detainees were chained together, she said.

People were coming and going all the time from the camp where she stayed, she said.

“She told me to take off my earrings and necklace before going with them, that I shouldn’t take my jewelry where I was going. It was only then that I started to feel afraid.”

Surveillance was not limited to cameras and guards. At night, the detainees themselves were forced to stand watch in shifts over other inmates in their own rooms. If anyone in the room acted up — getting into arguments with each other, for example, or speaking Uighur or Kazakh instead of Chinese — those on watch could be punished as well. Usually they were beaten, or, as happened more often to women, put into solitary confinement. Several former detainees said that older men and women could not handle standing for many hours and struggled to keep watch. The atmosphere was so crowded and tense that arguments sometimes broke out among detainees — but these were punished severely.

“They took me down there and beat me,” said one former detainee. “I couldn’t tell you where the room was because they put a hood over my head.”

Nursaule was never beaten, but one day, she got into a squabble with a Uighur woman who was living in the same dorm room. Guards put a sack over her head and took her to the solitary room.

There, it was dark, with only a metal chair and a bucket. Her ankles were shackled together. The room was small, about 10 feet by 10 feet, she said, with a cement floor. There was no window. The lights were kept off, so guards used a flashlight to find her, she said.

After three days had passed by, she was taken back up to the cell.


Ben Blanchard / Reuters

Residents at the Kashgar city vocational educational training center attend a Chinese lesson during a government-organized visit in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, Jan. 4, 2019.

The government has said that “students” in the camps receive vocational training, learn the Chinese language, and become “deradicalized.” Former detainees say this means they were brainwashed with Communist Party propaganda and forced to labor for free in factories.

State media reports have emphasized the classroom education that takes place in the camps, claiming that detainees are actually benefiting from their time there. But several former detainees told BuzzFeed News that there were too many people to fit inside the classroom, so instead they were forced to study textbooks while sitting on their plastic stools in their dorm rooms.

Those who did sit through lessons in classrooms described them all similarly. The teacher, at the front of the room, was separated from the detainees by a transparent wall or a set of bars, and he or she taught them Mandarin or about Communist Party dogma. Guards flanked the classroom, and some former detainees said they carried batons and even hit “pupils” when they made mistakes about Chinese characters.

Nearly every former detainee who spoke to BuzzFeed News described being moved from camp to camp, and noted that people always seemed to be coming and going from the buildings where they were being held. Officials did not appear to give reasons for these moves, but several former detainees chalked it up to overcrowding.

Among them was Dina Nurdybai, a 27-year-old Kazakh woman who ran a successful clothing manufacturing business. After being first detained on October 14, 2017, Nurdybai was moved between five different camps — ranging from a compound in a village where horses were raised to a high-security prison.

In the first camp, “it seemed like 50 new people were coming in every night. You could hear the shackles on their legs,” she said.


Ekaterina Anchevskaya For BuzzFeed News

Dina Nurdybai in her sewing workshop at her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Feb. 25.

Nursaule never expected to be released.

“It was dinner time and we were lining up at the door,” she said. “They called my name and another Kazakh woman’s name.” It was December 23, 2018.

She was terrified — she had heard that some detainees were being given prison sentences, and she wondered if she might be among them. China does not consider internment camps like the ones she was sent to be part of the criminal justice system — no one who is sent to a camp is formally arrested or charged with a crime.

Nursaule had heard that prisons — which disproportionately house Uighurs and Kazakhs — could be even worse than internment camps. She whispered to the other woman, “Are we getting prison terms?” The two were taken in handcuffs to a larger room and told to sit on plastic stools. Then an officer undid the handcuffs.

He asked if Nursaule wanted to go to Kazakhstan. She said yes. He then gave her a set of papers to sign, promising never to tell anyone what she had experienced. She signed it, and they allowed her to leave — to live under house arrest until she left for Kazakhstan for good. The day after, her daughter arrived with her clothes.

Nearly all of the former detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed News told a similar story about being asked to sign documents that said they’d never discuss what happened to them. Those who didn’t speak Chinese said they couldn’t even read what they were asked to sign.

Some of them were told the reasons they had been detained, and others said they never got an answer.

“In the end they told me I was detained because I had used ‘illegal software,’” Nurdybai said — WhatsApp.


Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

A giant national flag is displayed on the hillside of the peony valley scenic area in the Tacheng region, in northwest China, May 13, 2019.

Nursaule’s daughter, who is in her late twenties, is a nurse who usually works the night shift at a local hospital in Xinjiang, starting at 6 p.m. Nursaule worries all the time about her — about how hard she works, and whether she might be detained someday too. After Nursaule was eventually released from detention, it was her daughter who cared for her, because her husband had been detained too.

Like for other Muslim minorities, government authorities have taken her daughter’s passport, Nursaule said, so she cannot come to Kazakhstan.

Snow fell softly outside the window as Nursaule spoke about what had happened to her from an acquaintance’s apartment in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, where a cheery plastic tablecloth printed with cartoon plates of pasta covered the coffee table. Nursaule spoke slowly and carefully in her native Kazakh, with the occasional bitter note creeping into her voice, long after the milky tea on the table had grown cold.

But when she asked that her full name not be used in this article, she began to weep — big, heaving sobs pent up from the pain she carried with her, from talking about things she could hardly bear to remember or relate, even to her husband.

She was thinking about her daughter, she said, and about what could happen if Chinese officials discovered she spoke about her time in the camps. It is the reason that she, like so many former detainees and prisoners, has never spoken publicly about what was done to her.

“I am still afraid of talking about this,” she said. “I can’t stand it anymore. I can’t bear it.”

“It makes me suffer to tell you this,” she said.

“But I feel that I have to tell it.” ●



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Breaking New

Blanked-Out Spots On China’s Maps Helped Us Uncover Xinjiang’s Camps


Read Part 1 of this investigation here. Read Part 2 here.

This project was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.

In the summer of 2018, as it became even harder for journalists to work effectively in Xinjiang, a far-western region of China, we started to look at how we could use satellite imagery to investigate the camps where Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were being detained. At the time we began, it was believed that there were around 1,200 camps in existence, while only several dozen had been found. We wanted to try to find the rest.

Our breakthrough came when we noticed that there was some sort of issue with satellite imagery tiles loading in the vicinity of one of the known camps while using the Chinese mapping platform Baidu Maps. The satellite imagery was old, but otherwise fine when zoomed out — but at a certain point, plain light gray tiles would appear over the camp location. They disappeared as you zoomed in further, while the satellite imagery was replaced by the standard gray reference tiles, which showed features such as building outlines and roads.

At that time, Baidu only had satellite imagery at medium resolution in most parts of Xinjiang, which would be replaced by their general reference map tiles when you zoomed in closer. That wasn’t what was happening here — these light gray tiles at the camp location were a different color than the reference map tiles and lacked any drawn information, such as roads. We also knew that this wasn’t a failure to load tiles, or information that was missing from the map. Usually when a map platform can’t display a tile, it serves a standard blank tile, which is watermarked. These blank tiles are also a darker color than the tiles we had noticed over the camps.

Once we found that we could replicate the blank tile phenomenon reliably, we started to look at other camps whose locations were already known to the public to see if we could observe the same thing happening there. Spoiler: We could. Of the six camps that we used in our feasibility study, five had blank tiles at their location at zoom level 18 in Baidu, appearing only at this zoom level and disappearing as you zoomed in further. One of the six camps didn’t have the blank tiles — a person who had visited the site in 2019 said it had closed, which could well have explained it. However, we later found that the blank tiles weren’t used in city centers, only toward the edge of cities and in more rural areas. (Baidu did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Having established that we could probably find internment camps in this way, we examined Baidu’s satellite tiles for the whole of Xinjiang, including the blank masking tiles, which formed a separate layer on the map. We analyzed the masked locations by comparing them to up-to-date imagery from Google Earth, the European Space Agency’s Sentinel Hub, and Planet Labs.

In total there were 5 million masked tiles across Xinjiang. They seemed to cover any area of even the slightest strategic importance — military bases and training grounds, prisons, power plants, but also mines and some commercial and industrial facilities. There were far too many locations for us to sort through, so we narrowed it down by focusing on the areas around cities and towns and major roads.

Prisons and internment camps need to be near infrastructure — you need to get large amounts of building materials and heavy machinery there to build them, for starters. Chinese authorities would have also needed good roads and railways to bring newly detained people there by the thousand, as they did in the early months of the mass internment campaign. Analyzing locations near major infrastructure was therefore a good way to focus our initial search. This left us with around 50,000 locations to look at.

We began to sort through the mask tile locations systematically using a custom web tool that we built to support our investigation and help manage the data. We analyzed the whole of Kashgar prefecture, the Uighur heartland, which is in the south of Xinjiang, as well as parts of the neighboring prefecture, Kizilsu, in this way. After looking at 10,000 mask tile locations and identifying a number of facilities bearing the hallmarks of detention centers, prisons, and camps, we had a good idea of the range of designs of these facilities and also the sorts of locations in which they were likely to be found.

We quickly began to notice how large many of these places are — and how heavily securitized they appear to be, compared to the earlier known camps. In site layout, architecture, and security features, they bear greater resemblance to other prisons across China than to the converted schools and hospitals that formed the earlier camps in Xinjiang. The newer compounds are also built to last, in a way that the earlier conversions weren’t. The perimeter walls are made of thick concrete, for example, which takes much longer to build and perhaps later demolish, than the barbed wire fencing that characterizes the early camps.

In almost every county, we found buildings bearing the hallmarks of detention centers, plus new facilities with the characteristics of large, high-security camps and/or prisons. Typically, there would be an older detention center in the middle of the town, while on the outskirts there would be a new camp and prison, often in recently developed industrial areas. Where we hadn’t yet found these facilities in a given county, this pattern pushed us to keep on looking, especially in areas where there was no recent satellite imagery. Where there was no public high-resolution imagery, we used medium-resolution imagery from Planet Labs and Sentinel to locate likely sites. Planet was then kind enough to give us access to high-resolution imagery for these locations and to task a satellite to capture new imagery of some areas that hadn’t been photographed in high resolution since 2006. In one county, this allowed us to see that the detention center that had previously been identified by other researchers had been demolished and to find the new prison just out of town.

Prison requirements — why prisons are built where they are

There’s good reason why these places are developed close to towns. There’s the occasional camp in a more remote location, such as the sprawling internment camp in Dabancheng, but even there it’s next to a major road, with a small town nearby. Having the prison or camp close to an existing town minimizes, in principle, the distance that detainees must be transported (although there are also examples of prisoners and detainees being taken right across Xinjiang, from Kashgar to Korla, as in the drone video that reemerged recently, according to analysts). It is easier for families to visit loved ones who are in custody. Being near a town means that a prison or camp can be staffed more easily. Guards have families, their children need to go to school, their partners have jobs, they need access to healthcare, etc. Construction workers are needed to build the prison in the first place. It is also useful for amenities. Prisons and camps need electricity, water, telephone lines. It is way cheaper and easier to connect to an existing nearby network than to run new pipes and cables tens of kilometers to a more remote location.

Finally, you need a large plot of land for a prison, preferably with space to expand in the future, and this is what the recently developed industrial estates offer: large, serviced plots, close to existing towns and cities. Building in industrial estates also places the camps close to factories for forced labor. While many camps have factories within their compounds, in several cases that we know of detainees are bused to other factory sites to work.

Our list of sites

In total we identified 428 locations in Xinjiang bearing the hallmarks of prisons and detention centers. Many of these locations contain two to three detention facilities — a camp, pretrial administrative detention center, or prison. We intend to analyze these locations further and make our database more granular over the next few months.

Of these locations, we believe 315 are in use as part of the current internment program — 268 new camp or prison complexes, plus 47 pretrial administrative detention centers that have not been expanded over the past four years. We have witness testimony showing that these detention centers have frequently been used to detain people, who are often then moved on to other camps, and so we feel it is important to include them. Excluded from this 315 are 39 camps that we believe are probably closed and 11 that have closed — either they’ve been demolished or we have witness testimony that they are no longer in use. There are a further 14 locations identified by other researchers, but where our team has only been able to check the satellite evidence, which in these cases is weak. These 14 are not included in our list.

We have also located 63 prisons that we believe belong to earlier, pre-2016 programs. These facilities were typically built several years — in some cases, several decades — before the current internment program and have not been significantly extended since 2016. They are also different in style from the detention centers, known in Chinese as “kanshousuo,” and also from the newer camps. These facilities are not part of the 315 we believe to be in use as part of the current internment program and are included separately in our database.

Many of the earlier camps, which were converted from other uses, had their courtyard fencing, watchtowers, and other security features removed, often in late 2018 or early 2019. In some cases, the removal of most barricading, plus the fact that there are often cars parked in several places across the compounds, suggests that they’re no longer camps and are classified as probably closed in our database. The removal of the security features, in several cases, coincided with the opening of a larger, higher-security facility being completed nearby, suggesting that detainees may have been moved to the newer location.

Where facilities were purpose-built as camps and have had courtyard fencing removed but otherwise don’t show any change of use (like cars in the compound), we think they’re likely to still be camps — albeit with lower levels of security.

Acknowledgments

Our work has also built on the work of others, Shawn Zhang, Adrian Zenz, Bitter Winter, Gene Bunin, ETNAM, Open Street Map contributors, and the Laogai Handbook — we have sought to verify all of the locations in these databases (and attempted to locate the camps in the case of the Laogai Handbook), added them to our database where relevant, and classified them. The work of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), especially Nathan Ruser and his advice at an early stage of this project, was also invaluable. We would also like to note the contribution of the interpreters who worked with us. For security reasons, we aren’t sharing names or other identifying details, but would like nevertheless to publicly extend our thanks — you know who you are.

Alison Killing conducted this reporting with a grant and further assistance from the Open Technology Fund.





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Breaking New

Survival camps cater to new fear: America’s political unrest


FORTITUDE RANCH, Colo. (Reuters) – Aiming an AR-15 rifle across a Colorado valley dotted with antelope and cattle, Drew Miller explains how members of his new survival ranch would ride out an apocalypse.

The former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer said his latest Fortitude Ranch community, under construction below mountain forests, will shelter Americans fleeing anything from a bioengineered pandemic to an attack on the electricity grid.

For an annual fee of around $1,000, members can vacation at the camps in good times, and use them as a refuge during a societal collapse.

“If you’ve got a lot of weapons, if you’ve got a lot of members at guard posts, defensive walls, we don’t think we’re going to need to fight,” said Miller, crouching on top of a fortified position on the camp perimeter.

The expansion of Miller’s camp chain underscores the growing mainstream appeal of the “prepper” movement long associated with anti-government survivalists.

In recent years prepping has overlapped with millennial interests in renewable energy, homesteading, minimalist living and concerns about climate change.

Then there is politics.

Increasingly, Miller said, clients fear sharp political divisions will deepen around the Nov. 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election.

“There is growing concern that after the 2020 election there could be massive, long-lasting civil unrest if people say, ‘Hey, I don’t buy the new president, I don’t recognize him or her,’” said Miller, who has added “civil war” to his risk scenarios.

Skeptics said Fortitude Ranch was preparing for catastrophic events that were unlikely and possibly not worth surviving.

There is a rational level of readiness for natural disasters or power outages, said New York University Professor Robyn Gershon, and then there is “hyper-extreme” preparedness.

She predicted a bad ending for anyone holing up in a compound with strangers to make it through a global pandemic or nuclear war.

“The quality of life will be degraded to a point where, for modern-day people, it probably won’t be worth living,” said Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology.

AR-15 OR SHOTGUN?

The solar-powered camps cater to middle-class Americans worried about their vulnerability in cities and suburbs. Unlike traditional survivalists, many are not schooled in off-the-grid living, and some have no idea how to hunt. Besides the annual fee, the main requirement for members is an AR-15 style rifle or pump-action shotgun for defense.

The camps stock about three months of food and have goats and chickens. In a collapse situation, members would follow orders from camp leaders like Miller. Tasks would include collecting firewood and nuts, killing game and growing vegetables. Everyone would do guard duty.

Miller expects marauding gangs to pour out of cities if law and order breaks down. He expects his ranches to have superior firepower. The new Colorado camp has a .50 caliber rifle to take on armored vehicles.

Anthropology professor Chad Huddleston said such fears sounded like “apocalyptic fiction.”

“The research around the world shows that communities come together first, before anything else,” said Huddleston of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, citing studies on the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Fortitude Ranch has around 175 members from all ethnic groups, many with business or military backgrounds, and most distrust the government, said Miller. He asked that exact locations of camps not be disclosed.

If he can find investors, Miller hopes to expand communities from two existing locations in Colorado and one in West Virginia to 10 more states.

“A SPECIAL GROUP”

Members like health insurance professional Kiki Bandilla, 53, of Castle Rock, Colorado, worry about over-dependence on modern technology and see the ranches as survival insurance.

“We all need to have a certain level of preparedness,” said Bandilla, who runs Denver’s Self Reliance Expo showcasing everything from tiny homes to body armor. “I see it becoming a little bit more mainstream, because I believe what’s happening in our government, on both the right and the left, is chaos.”

Tom, a 52-year-old who runs a Maryland housing business, fears a 2021 economic meltdown and wants a place to take his girlfriend and children.

“You’re going to have a lot of people who are going to want to give up, but most of those people are not going to be at the ranch,” he said, asking that his last name not be used.

Just how many Americans are prepping is hard to measure as most keep their activities secret. People within the industry, including Roman Zrazhevskiy, chief executive of Ready To Go Survival, said interest is growing.

Zrazhevskiy said sales of his survival-kit bags and gas masks have doubled or tripled on demand from “liberal preppers”. “They’re concerned about what Trump is doing,” he said. “The whole civil war thing isn’t that implausible.”

Some within the movement say private survival communities may not be for everyone.

“It would be a challenge, I think, to throw a hundred people into a compound without really knowing each other,” said Don Rodgers, who runs Rocky Mountain Readiness, which trains families in emergency preparedness and sells gear.

“It would take a special group and a special leader to hold that together.”

Miller believes Fortitude Ranch is that group: “If you’ve got to be here, then it means it’s really, really bad out there, so where are you going to go?”

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Colorado; Editing by Richard Chang



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