Part 2: Geolocating Growth of Suspect “Boarding” Facilities in Xinjiang China

Authors from RAND: Katherine Pfrommer and Ed Burke
Latest
Part 2
55 facilities identified
Impact
geolocating human rights issues
Updated
JUL 8
32 Days Ago

Overview

RAND has identified 55 facilities suspected of housing young children the construction of which coincided with a publicly stated policy to build “boarding schools” in Xinjiang. Western researchers and press allege that Xinjiang authorities are using repurposed and newly built schools to board Uyghur youth as part of a policy of intergenerational separation.

This second methodology report can help other researchers identify facilities that could be used to house children of detained Muslim minority groups, through the analysis of satellite imagery correlated with other sources. Other researchers can view this analysis in 3rd-party tools such as Google Earth or ESRI systems. (See "Data Sources" section for downloads).


Activity

GEOINT analysis shows steady construction progress in both 2017 and 2019 of suspect facilities in southern Xinjiang.

In this second Tearline report, RAND used NGA-funded commercial imagery and public Google Earth layers to identify 55 additional suspect facilities in Yutian (Keriya) County, one of seven county-level administrative entities in Hotan Prefecture.

See first Tearline report for background on China's "re-education" policies and detention activity in Western China and our methodology.

The suspect facilities identified in Yutian County meet our imagery-based identification criteria, which is informed by other research and reporting. Like in our previous report, the 55 facilities have similar construction timelines, locations, and physical features.

  • Construction timeline: Many of the newly identified facilities were constructed within a six-month period in 2017, while others were begun in 2019. See the timeline feature to note these construction trends.
  • Physical features:The shapes of the buildings in the facilities are all very similar, suggesting that either a common floor plan was used by multiple construction entities or the same entity built these facilities. Most include protruding sections on each end, the function of which is unclear. Most of the buildings identified previously were approximately 35 meters long and 15-20 meters wide; by comparison, the Yutian County structures are larger, at 40 or 50 meters long and typically 15 meters wide. We found that each facility site includes at least one children's playset, but unlike other Hotan area sites identified earlier, these generally lack colorful circles and play mats in the front courtyards. Like the other sites previously identified, the Yutian facilities are surrounded by high walls with a single, security-controlled entry point.
  • Comparative Size: While these facilities are larger than the previously reported Hotan sites, they are smaller in size compared to primary schools. The term "postage stamp" denotes the cookie-cutter nature of these facilities and their smaller size in comparison. Some primary schools for older children in Yutian county are much larger in size, have a more spacious appearance, often have more buildings within the compound, often include an athletic track and soccer field, and lack playsets. In the next series of reports, RAND will further investigate a broader range of smaller and compact schools (postage stamps) compared with other larger school types.

Local governments have constructed schools under the auspices of poverty alleviation efforts; however, in rebutting the first Tearline report on Hotan area facilities, Chinese state media appears to have confirmed in early June 2020 (also seen in a China Daily article from January 2020) that these are not merely schools, where children attend during the day, but that they also house children. The increased construction of facilities that serve the dual purpose of housing and educating suggests that a large number of parents may be unable to care for their children. In any case, children remain in these facilities rather than returning to their homes, no matter how near or far those may be. Furthermore, researchers say that the movement of childcare from the home and family to the state isolates children from their culture and language and may be part of a larger series of policies aimed at weakening the identity of Muslim minorities. The Chinese state media report also erroneously claimed that the first report alleged that the schools were engaged in re-education like at the adult detention facilities across Xinjiang; it did not.

Yutian County is both very rural and sparsely populated: At over 15,000 square miles it is nearly twice the size of the state of Massachusetts and would rank as the fifth largest county in the United States. Its population in 2010 was about 250,000, some 95% of whom are Uyghur.1 Figures 1-4 below and imagery in the timeline section represent examples of the distinctive features present in these facilities against a contrasting image showing a larger primary school that has a more spacious appearance and lacks playsets because the school is for older children.

Figure 1: Example of facility without colorful circles/play mats, protruding edges on the building, and "postage stamp" appearance. See KMZ file or Shapefile for more examples of this type of facility.

Facility_52

Figure 2: High security walls, narrow entry control point, playset, and "postage stamp" appearance

Facility_42
Facility #42, November 2, 2017, 36.812985 N 81.681574 E, Google Earth Historical Layer.

Figure 3: Comparison of colorful circles/play mats from first report

Facility_10_r_p

Figure 4: Comparison of primary school, Yutian County Central Primary School. Note the larger size, more spacious appearance, more buildings, and athletic track below compared with the smaller and more compact appearance of the facilities with playsets above and in the KMZ file and Shapefile.

spacious school example
March 18, 2020, 36.817113 N 81.627675 E, Google Earth Historical Layer.

References and Notes

  1. Alternative spelling for Uyghur for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is Uighur.

Yutian County Facilities

Google Earth (KML/KMZ) view of Yutian County facilities.

Looking Ahead

Subsequent reports on the other six counties of Hotan Prefecture, and of Hotan city itself, will be forthcoming.

Things To Watch

  • ground clearing in rural areas
  • “postage stamp” appearance in rural areas while scanning large swaths of imagery
  • compact appearance
  • protruding edges on buildings
  • high security walls and playsets
  • narrow, controlled entry points
  • part 3 of geolocational series coming soon...

Data Sources

kml Yutian County Facility Annotations
shp Yutian County Facility Annotations

About the Authors

Katherine Pfrommer

Quantitative Analyst, RAND

Ed Burke

Senior Advisor, RAND

Tearline
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Methodologies Reviewed by NGA


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