Two ethnic Uighur women pass Chinese paramilitary policemen standing guard outside the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region

As anti-Muslim politicians and Islamophobia in Europe and North America draw international attention, another nation on the other side of the world has implemented a large-scale crackdown on its Muslim population.

Citing "credible" reports, officials from the United Nations said Friday that millions of Muslims are currently detained in camps in China. 

More than one million are held in what are allegedly "counter-extremism centers" in the far west of the country, according to Gay McDougall, the vice chairperson of of the UN anti-discrimination committee, Al Jazeera reported.

"Another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination," she added.

Qurans confiscated, "Abnormal beards" banned

China's Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority in the country, constitute about 45 percent of the Xinjiang province's population, according to the BBC. As is the case with Tibet, the province is designated as an autonomous region.

Reports have circulated for several months suggesting that China has moved to detain more and more members of the religious minority. The group has faced persecution for years however, with the government even barring parents from giving their kids certain Islamic names, while also banning burqas and "abnormal beards."

Last September, reports also circulated alleging that Uighurs had been ordered to turn in all religious items to police, including prayer mats and copies of the holy Quran.

Regulations for Uighur community have forced residents to watch state television and have provided specific guidelines on how children can be educated, according to The Independent. China's government has previously denied committing any abuses, saying such measures are an attempt to crackdown on "extremism," but activists say otherwise.

"Deeply concerned"

“We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability (China) has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internship camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone’,” McDougall said, Reuters reported.

The U.S. mission to the UN posted to Twitter, saying that it is “deeply troubled by reports of an ongoing crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslims in China.” 

“We call on China to end their counterproductive policies and free all of those who have been arbitrarily detained,” the mission added.

The 2017 report by Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of continued "restrictions on fundamental human rights and pervasive ethnic and religious discrimination."

"The Chinese government has long justified censorship in minority areas as a measure to maintain 'ethnic harmony,'" HRW said. "But ironically, this censorship fuels bigotry and ignorance – heightening already-strained ethnic relations."

Muslims aren't the only groups to suffer, as Christians and Tibetan Buddhists also face challenges in the country, along with activists and journalists.

Uighurs burning a Chinese flag at a protest in Turkey Source: WikiMedia

Legal protections?

Fatima-Binta Dah, a member of the UN anti-discrimination panel asked the Chinese delegation: "What is the level of religious freedom available now to Uighurs in China, what legal protection exists for them to practice their religion?”

The 50-member delegation from China attending the meeting where the accusations were made said they would address questions about the detention camps on Monday.