CHINA: Uyghurs continue to oppose “genocide tours” to Xinjiang

American and European travel companies should not directly or indirectly support a genocidal regime, Rushan Abbas told “Bitter Winter.”

By Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (16.02.2024) – I met Rushan Abbas, the founder and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, at the admirable International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC, where she and I were both speakers. We discussed developments in Xinjiang (which its non-Han-Chinese inhabitants prefer to call East Turkistan) and how Chinese propaganda is at work to deny the genocide that is happening there. Different kinds of “useful idiots” are mobilized internationally. Others in the West, however, are not necessarily moved by ideology. They simply found a way of making money out of a genocide.

Abbas criticized in particular the “genocide tourism” promoted by travel companies in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, denounced by two reports of the Uyghur Human Rights Projects (UHRP), published respectively in August 2023 and January 2024. While some travel companies have direct links to pro-Chinese lobbies and organizations, others do not. They are just interested in selling for significant money “unique travel experiences” to their customers. Abbas told me that this is a subtle, yet extremely dangerous way of manipulating the Western public opinion and normalizing the genocide.

The UHRP second report analyzes and names eighteen European travel companies from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, in addition to another ten tour operators from the UK, the U.S., and Australia listed in the first report. There is nothing “adventurous” in the trips they propose. They are carefully monitored by the Chinese authorities, and organized in cooperation with them. Destroyed mosques and Islamic cemeteries are carefully avoided.

Tourists are told that they will become familiar with the ancient Uyghur identity, with the implication that China is not repressing it. This is, however, a lie. “The Uyghur identity on display in East Turkistan,” states the first UHRP report, “is that which has been permitted by the Chinese state. What the Chinese state has left of public expressions of Uyghur identity has remained for commodification and exploitation not only by visitors on tours from overseas, but also domestic tourists. By visiting these simulacra of Uyghurness, the travel company and visitor on an organized tour are complicit in the denial of the Uyghur people to define their own identity. In addition, tourism is a primary means with which the Chinese state territorializes and securitizes East Turkistan. The tourist presence coerces Uyghurs to perform a revisioned version of their culture, history, and religion as the security apparatus of the state maintains this fictional depiction.”

A special scandal of the “genocide tours” is that some of them lead tourists to visit “the homes of Uyghur families,” carefully selected by the regime. These are visits, says the second UHRP report, “which families are in no position to refuse given the environment of securitization and state control. This represents a significant violation of privacy and perpetuates the surveillance programs that have been carried out in Uyghur homes. As an example, the French travel company Hasamélis, as part of its La Route de la Soie Chinoise tour, offers dinner in Turpan with a Uyghur family in their home. Other companies offering home visits include EMS Voyage [France], Shiraz Travel Tours [Italy], and Viatgi [Spain].”

Taking tourists to visit “Uyghur family homes” in a context of genocide may not be so much different from a travel agency who would have offered tours to Nazi Germany to visit the homes of more or less genuine Jewish families, which would have assured the naive visitors that all was well for the Jews there.

“By bringing tourists to East Turkistan, these travel companies are implicitly supporting the normalization of genocidal Chinese government policies aimed at eradicating the Uyghur identity, further denying the Uyghur people the ability to define ‘Uyghurness’ for themselves,” the UHRP concludes. “UHRP is clear in its message: we are urging international travel companies in North America, Europe, and Australia to cease profiteering from genocide. We do not advocate for a ban on [individual] travel to East Turkistan, leaving the decision to visit the region to the conscience of the individual traveler. We recommend travel companies and trade associations call for an end to tours to East Turkistan and to increase due diligence processes and human rights compliance in line with international standards. Travel companies have the opportunity to turn from selling ‘Genocide Tours’ to becoming Uyghur allies through publicly canceling tours and condemning China’s crimes against humanity.”


Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Photo: Innocents abroad: caricature of naive Western tourists and more or less false Uyghurs in Xinjiang (AI-generated). 

Photo 1: Cover of the first UHRP report.

Further reading about FORB in China on HRWF website