Vocational education and training in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are giving the younger generation there the "hope of life", according to JayanathColombage, Director-General of the Institute of National Security Studies of Sri Lanka, who attended a symposium on counterterrorism in Geneva on March 2.
The conference, which focused on counterterrorism, deradicalization, and the promotion and protection of human rights, was a side event during the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Global experts from countries including China, Cameroon and Serbia were invited to share their experiences of the fight against terrorism, and to discuss the effectiveness of anti-terrorism efforts.
Colombage went to the autonomous region in northwest China last year. He told the audience about a very different Xinjiang to the one seen in some Western media reports.
"When I went to education training centers, what I saw is that young people there now have the hope of life," he said. "They told us earlier on they didn't have any hope because they didn't have good education or good skills, so they were easily led by extremist ideology."
From 1990 to the end of 2016, separatist, terrorist and extremist forces launched thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, killing large numbers of innocent people and hundreds of police officers, and causing immeasurable damage to property.
No violent or terrorist attacks have occurred in Xinjiang for more than two years, according to the State Council Information Office of China. Kham-InhKitchadeth, the Permanent Representative of Laos to the UN Office in Geneva, who also visited Xinjiang last year, said people's lives in the region are now "back to normal". Meanwhile, Chairman of China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Shohrat Zakir said that Xinjiang was an open region and welcomed relevant United Nations experts who wanted to visit the vocational education and training centers to know ground reality in an objective and fair manner.
"We will welcome any of the UN experts to visit Xinjiang to know the real situation and we hope their comments will be based on facts and ground realities," he said while talking to a group of foreign journalist who was flown to visit a few vocational education and training centers in south parts of Xinjiang. Zakir, also Deputy Secretary of CPC Xinjiang Committee, said anyone who wanted to come could listen to the voice of a majority of people with an objective and fair manner and not to the individuals.
"We hope they will not damage our national interest and the national unity among the people seeking a wealthy and happy life," he added.
He said the centers were set up to educate and transform the people influenced by the extremism in an effort to improve their job skills, ability to speak the country's common language and enhance a limited sense and knowledge of the law.
Explaining further, he said in the remote parts of the Xinjiang, the literacy level of people was relatively low and many of them even could not speak country's common language and they also did not know about the current condition of the country as well as the world.
He said they had a limited sense of law and they were not aware of the use of law to protect their rights.
Some of the trainees were not aware that they would be punished if they committed the crime. "We are teaching the national common language, law and regulations to aware them about the country and world as well as their legal rights, obligations, and duties", he added.
Zakir said the objective of these vocational training was to impart them the education of technical skill enabling them to find jobs and set up small businesses and become a useful citizen.
"We hope the education and training will help them to integrate mainstream society and modern world and to quit extremist thoughts," he added. About the establishment of centers and number of trainees studying there, he said all the vocational education and training centers were set up in accordance with the law and regulations particularly framed for this purpose. The number of students varied from a few hundred to one thousand in each center located in southern Xinjiang where almost every country had one training center while the northern parts of the province had no training centers.
He expressed the confidence that the trainees after completion of their training would go back to society and seek a healthy and happy life.
"We will provide them assistance to seek employment and help set up their own businesses," he added.
The chairman however, made it clear that all the criminals involved in big crimes particularly terrorist attacks against the innocent people would be severely punished in accordance with the law. Responding to a question, he informed that the centers were providing free nutritious meals, free education, and dorms equipped with radio, television and sports facilities. These centers had been set up for a specific period and the staff would be repatriated to their respective institutions after their closure.
During the visits to vocational education and training centers at Kashgar City, Moyu County and Hotan County in the south parts of Xinjiang, a number of trainees said they were previously affected by extremist thought.