Stop tourism of Xinjiang, Uyghur advocacy group says

news RFA Logo

September 5, 2023 | Radio Free Asia | By Roseanne Gerin and RFA Uyghur

“Travel companies have no business in running tours to sites of ongoing atrocities,” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, or UHRP, in a statement issued Aug. 30, the day the report was released.

“Nobody would have dreamed of taking tourists into Rwanda, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, or Darfur in the midst of the horrors in these places,” he said. “The same should apply to East Turkistan,” he said, using Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang, which means “New Territory” in Mandarin.

In early August, the UHRP emailed the companies to inform them about the report.

Geographic Expeditions acknowledged receipt of the group’s email, while Intrepid Travel said it canceled tours to Xinjiang, the UHRP said.

Wild Frontiers told Voice of America that it has not operated tours to Xinjiang since 2019 and that it would conduct an investigation into its trips to the region to ensure that potential future visits are “done as sensitively as possible.” According to the UHRP, the company said it does not support China’s actions in Xinjiang but believes that travel can have a positive impact on local communities.

Though the tour companies see their actions as neutral, they are contributing to China’s narrative that life is normal in the region and minimizing concerns over genocide, said Julie Millsap, UHRP’s government relations manager.

Because Chinese authorities prevent Uyghurs in Xinjiang from freely engaging with foreign tourists, visitors’ impressions are being “filtered through the lens that the Chinese government allows them to see and is helping to portray life as normal, when in reality it is still not,” Millsap told RFA. 

In the report, the UHRP makes seven recommendations to travel companies and their respective trade associations, calling for an end to Xinjiang tours and for companies to meet internal, industry, and international environmental, social and governance standards.

The group also called for the companies to commit to international human rights standards for the travel industry embodied in the Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics and to adhere to its articles through an annual review of operations.   

Read the full article: