A United Nations panel on racism has expressed concern at reports of discrimination against the Uyghur community in China, citing estimates that 2 million people have been forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the Xinjiang region, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Several “credible reports” suggest that China has made the region a “massive internship camp shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone”, in the name of fighting religious extremism, Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said on Friday. She made the remark at a two-day meeting in Geneva.

The north-western Xinjiang region is home to more than 10 million members of the Uyghur Muslim minority group.

McDougall said members of the Uyghur community and other Muslims were being treated as “enemies of the state” solely because of their ethno-religious identity. Dozens of Uyghur students who returned to China from other countries had been detained, and some were dying in custody, she alleged.

Human rights groups have informed the committee about reports of mass imprisonment of minorities in camps where inmates are forced to swear loyalty to the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, the BBC reported. The World Uyghur Congress has said that inmates are held indefinitely without charge, and are poorly fed and tortured.

China is expected to respond to the remarks when the session resumes on Monday. The country is represented by a delegation of around 50 officials.

Beijing has earlier said that Islamist militants and separatists pose a serious threat to Xinjiang autonomous region. However, it denies the existence of the camps where the minorities are allegedly held. China had refuted the claim by a United States diplomat in April that thousands of people had been held in “re-education centres” in a government crackdown.

The United States’ mission to the UN said it was “deeply troubled” by the reports. “We call on China to end their counterproductive policies and free all of those who have been arbitrarily detained,” the mission said on Twitter.