XINJIANG, CHINA — Over 1.5 million individuals are being held in detention camps in China's northwest region of Xinjiang, and legal U.S. residents may be among them.
CNN reports that Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback received an unconfirmed report that a California man's father had been detained during travels back to China.
Brownback said at a State Department briefing on Thursday that the 75-year-old is a legal U.S. resident who had a number of chronic illnesses, and had not been heard from since he went to Xinjiang.
Brownback said he raised the issue with Chinese officials at the UN, who first denied anything, but later said the camps were for "vocational training."
An estimate from a 2018 State Department Human Rights report indicates that China had "arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities.
According to CNN, former detainees claim they were forced to undergo intensive brainwashing sessions, which include studies of Communist Party propaganda.
China has tried to pass off the camps as vocational and educational training centers, meant for counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and to fight against a rise in extremism in Xinjiang.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has fired back saying the U.S. is merely using the Xinjiang issue to meddle in China's internal affairs.
He also claims he has no information regarding Americans being held in the Xinjiang camps.
The U.S. says they are "committed to providing consular assistance to US citizens in need abroad" but did warn that China doesn't recognize dual nationality, and could stop the U.S. Embassy from stepping in.