Three years after a group of four Uyghurs held in the Guantanamo U.S. detention facility were resettled in the resort island of Bermuda, they remain “prisoners in paradise” with their lives in legal limbo and one of them out of work, according to reports.
The four men, brought from Guantanamo to the tropical British territory in June 2009, remain stateless and do not have passports, and are struggling with the high cost of living in Bermuda, the New York Post reported.
“We are working hard just to stay alive,” one of the four, Abdulla Abduqadir told the Post, adding that he could not afford health insurance.
Three of them have jobs in manual labor, often working 12-hour days, seven days a week.
The fourth, Ablikim Turahun, is out of work and desperate to make ends meet, his lawyer Richard Horseman told Bermuda’s Royal Gazette.
“Ablikim has been out of work for two weeks now and is unable to provide food for his family,” he said.
Trapped and stateless
The four were among a group of 22 Uyghurs from northwestern China captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.
After years in the detention facility, they were declared non-enemy combatants and flown to Bermuda in a secret deal between the U.S. and the territory’s then-governor that came as a surprise even to Britain.
All four have married women they met online and brought to Bermuda from overseas. Three have become fathers, but their children do not have citizenship either.
“Even my son has no nationality on his birth certificate, and I don’t know why. I just want to say: Who am I?”” Abdulla Abduqadir said.
Without passports, the men are “trapped in Bermuda” unless their situation changes, Horseman said.
“They need to have passports and citizenship which will allow them to be truly free.”
But without being offered citizenship by the British government or being relocated by the U.S. to another country where they could pursue citizenship, the prospects for resolving their legal status “look bleak,” Horseman said.
Out of the 22 Uyghurs originally detained at Guantanamo, three remain at the facility.
The three, who spurned an offer to leave Guantanamo for the Pacific island nation of Palau, were included in a list last month of 55 captives the U.S. government has cleared for release if they can be repatriated or resettled safely through diplomatic deals.
Aside from the four Uyghurs sent to Bermuda, five went to Albania, six to Palau, two to Switzerland, and, in April this year, two to El Salvador.
China opposed any countries accepting the Uyghurs, claiming they are members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which China, the United Nations, and the United States regard as a terrorist organization.
The U.S. government has refused to return the Uyghurs held at Guantanamo to China, saying they would face persecution there.
But Washington has also been reluctant to resettle them in the United States, despite appeals from exile Uyghur rights groups.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.