East Turkestan: In Limbo after Guantanamo
Men from Uyghur’s ethnic minority who still live in a refugee camp in Albania have no place to go and settle down after they were freed from their confinement in Guantanamo more than one year ago.
Below are extracts from an article written by Tim Golden and published by The New York Times.
Ahktar Qassim Basit says he is not angry about the four years he spent as an American prisoner at
It is this new life in
The men, Muslims from western
The men have been told that they will need to get work to move out of the center, they said, but that they must learn the Albanian language to get work permits. For now, they subsist on free meals heavy with macaroni and rice, and monthly stipends of about $67, which they spend mostly on brief telephone calls to their families. But some of the men have already lost hope of ever seeing their wives and children again.
“We suffered very much at Guantánamo, but we continue to suffer here,” Mr. Basit said. “The other prisoners had their countries, but we are like orphans: we have no place to go.”
Mr. Basit and four other men here, who spent time at a hamlet in
Things could be worse, the former prisoners note. At least 15 of the 17 Uighurs who remain at Guantánamo have also been cleared for release, but not even
“The United States has made extensive and high-level efforts over a period of four years to try to resettle the Uighurs in countries around the world,” the State Department’s legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, said in an interview. Its lack of success, he added, “has not been for lack of trying.”
Many American officials privately describe the Uighurs’ plight as one of the more troubling episodes of the Bush administration’s detention program. The case also provides a view of the remarkable difficulties
The refugees in Tirana seem to have little sense of how to influence the global chess game in which they have become involved. They spend most of their days behind the refugee center’s high, cinderblock walls, reading the Koran, studying Albanian and waiting for a turn on the center’s lone desktop computer. They avoid the gravelly soccer field because it reminds them of one they looked out on at Guantánamo.
With President Bush scheduled to visit Albania on Sunday [10 June 2007], the Uighurs and three other former Guantánamo detainees here are also asking whether the United States, having flown them here in shackles, might do anything to help get them the housing, jobs and other support they have been told to expect.
Several of the Uighurs said their most traumatic experience at Guantánamo was their interrogation by a team of Chinese security officials in September 2002. The Chinese “had all of our files from the Americans,” Mr. Qassim said, threatened them repeatedly and insisted that the prisoners return with them to
But American intelligence personnel at Guantánamo soon began to doubt that most of the Uighurs represented a real terrorist threat, officials who served there said. By late 2003, senior national security officials in
Some officials at the Pentagon advocated sending the Uighurs back to
The State Department began approaching both Muslim countries like
The boards were told to review the Uighur cases again, officials said. This time, they found that only five could be freed. (Subsequent annual reviews have cleared 15 of the 17 remaining detainees.)
The State Department then began casting its net more widely. One prospect was the west African
American diplomats said they had contacted governments from
“The Chinese keep coming in behind us and scaring different countries with whom they have financial or trade relationships,” said one administration official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing diplomatic issues.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy in
“But we helped as much as we could,” the Albanian foreign minister, Lulzim Basha, said in an interview.
American officials said
“One of the problems we’ve encountered is that they say, why doesn’t the
American officials said they considered that idea. But two officials said it was shot down in 2005 by the Department of Homeland Security, which argued that the men would be barred from entering the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act because they had been linked to a terrorist group or received “military-type training” from a group that engaged in terrorism.
Although American officials said they had compensated the Albanian government generously for taking the refugee, American diplomats in Tirana have paid little attention to the fate of the five Uighurs and the three other former Guantánamo detainees here, an Egyptian, an Algerian and an Uzbek.
“We’ve never talked to them,” said an American official who insisted on anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the matter. “We don’t monitor them. They’re not our citizens, and there is no reason for us to.” The official attributed the shortcomings of the Albanian resettlement effort to “routine bureaucratic problems.”
The Tirana representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has helped to organize and finance the refugee program in Albania, sounded more frustrated with the slow pace of resettlement.
“The government of
“After four and a half years, we thought we had escaped from Guantánamo, but we are still living under that shadow,” Mr. Qassim said. “Sometimes we think it would be better to go die in our homeland than to stay here.”