Tour operators have been warned to suspend Uyghur area visits due to human rights violations in China.

Human rights activists for the Uyghur people have demanded that western travel agencies cease marketing vacation packages that include stops in Xinjiang, where human rights violations by the government have been described as a genocide by certain nations.

The proposal is timed with China’s reopening to international tourists after the epidemic and President Xi Jinping’s encouragement of more travel to the area.

On Wednesday, the U.S.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) issued a study warning that western tourists visiting the area would be normalizing Chinese government programs “intended to destroy the Uyghur identity.”

Through its practices of mass imprisonment, reeducation, surveillance, population control, and persecution of religious and cultural expression in the area, the Chinese government has been accused of crimes against humanity and atrocities including torture. The government insists its measures are designed to combat extremism and reduce poverty, a claim that is categorically refuted by critics.

“Nothing under current conditions in East Turkistan aligns with travel company and industry commitments to protection and empowerment of local communities,” the organization stated, referencing the region’s original name and status as an autonomous state between 1944 and 1949.

The UHRP investigation detailed seven different tour operators based in the West and their respective vacation packages. There were travel operators advertising trips for this year and next who had not done so since before the Covid epidemic, when China was off-limits to visitors.
Some “problematic” experiences included stops at the Xinjiang Regional Museum, which the Uyghur Heritage and Rights Protection (UHRP) said contributed to the “state erasure of Uyghur history, culture, and identity,” and the Id Kah mosque, which the Uyghur Heritage and Rights Protection (UHRP) said has been made largely off limits to Uyghurs for prayer.

Travel companies like Goway told its customers they would “meet with a local Uyghur family” on one of their trips. According to the UHRP, Uyghur families have “no possibility” of refusing such a visit. “It is perverse that overseas visitors on organised tours should visit Uyghur homes when Uyghur families cannot host their own family members who live abroad,” it said.

“Further, the presence of family outsiders in Uyghur homes has been a key tactic in the surveillance and exploitation of Uyghurs,” it continued, referring to a program instituted in 2017 in which Han Chinese officials were stationed in Uyghur families.

Some trips also took visitors to Aksu, where investigators into human rights abuses have located many detention facilities. “The optics of advertising and organizing tours to the Uyghur region amid ongoing crimes against humanity are disastrous,” said the report’s author, Henryk Szadziewski.

Arguments are made both for and against traveling to dangerous parts of the globe. Some businesses and travelers think that they have an obligation to help assist locals and provide an outside perspective.

Intrepid Travel, one of the seven companies reviewed by UHRP, has “had to confront several ethical considerations in destinations all over the world over its 34-year history,” a company spokeswoman told the Guardian. We at Intrepid think that travel has the potential to have a beneficial influence on the places we visit.

A spokesman added that Intrepid has teams committed to ensuring ethical supply-chain management and that the company worked with around 8,000 suppliers worldwide. In February, the corporation implemented new human rights policies, including a triennial review of its worldwide operations. In 2024, we may expect the next one.

Bamboo Travel, established in the United Kingdom and also featured by UHRP, has only sent a small number of customers to Turpan, Urumqi, and Kashgar throughout the course of its 17 years in business, and none in the last five.

To that end, he said, “Bamboo Travel does not support the Chinese government in their suppression of the Uyghur people, and we would never knowingly provide services that would harm or endanger the local population in China’s Xinjiang province.”

We are not presently considering the recommendation in this report to prevent any travel to Xinjiang. We think it’s better to communicate with the people who live in these communities and get to know them than to avoid them or to cut off the money such areas get from tourists.