HAMILTON, Bermuda, CMC – Four Chinese Muslim detainees, who had been held at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, have been resettled in Bermuda without the permission of the Governor, who is responsible for internal and external security in this affluent British Overseas Territory.
Premier Ewart Brown made the announcement at a news conference on Thursday morning, maintaining that the men were innocent.
The four men – aged between 25 and 35 – arrived by air on Wednesday night and will be given the opportunity to gain Bermudian citizenship.
?These men are landed in Bermuda in the short term, provided with the opportunity to become naturalised citizens and therefore afforded the right to travel and leave Bermuda potentially settling elsewhere,? Brown told journalists, adding that the decision to give the men asylum began during talks in Washington, DC last month.
The men are Chinese Muslims called Uighurs from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they have been repressed by the Chinese government. China long has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang.
One of the men, Abdul Nasser, issued a statement through his lawyers, saying ?growing up under communism, we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring?.
However, it later emerged the decision had been taken without the permission of Government House.
?Yes, it was done without permission and the Government of Bermuda should have consulted with us because it carries with it foreign policy ground areas and security issues,? said British Governor Sir Richard Gozney, the Queen’s representative on the island.
?We will now need to assess these four individuals. We were only told this morning. We are working with the Government of Bermuda to address these issues. There are two parts to it – the assessing of the individuals and the other is assessing the implications.
?I am not going to pass judgement on it. We are talking to the Premier.?
He said that was all he could comment on and referred reporters to the Foreign Commonwealth Office in London.
Minister of Home Affairs David Burch said the men were cleared of terrorism allegations in a US court and sat in the prison as innocent men.
?We are people who care and are people who help others and certainly in this case that is practically what we are doing,? he said.
When questioned about their mental state, Burch said they appeared to be fine. He said they talked for the entire flight to Bermuda and were ?excited about coming to the island?.
The Barack Obama administration in Washington has been under pressure to resettle the detainees, as it tries to fulfil its promise to close the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects on the US naval base in Cuba.
The US government had determined that the Chinese Muslims at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants and should be released. But China resisted their release and it had been unclear where they would go free.
Thirteen other Uighurs remain to be freed from Guantanamo.
Thursday’s announcement comes one day after the tropical Pacific island nation of Palau agreed to temporarily take in 17 of the Uighur detainees, which the US government worries may face persecution if they are returned to China.
The US reportedly recently agreed to give Palau US$117million in aid.
US Attorney General Eric Holder, in a written statement, said that by helping accomplish Obama?s objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer.
?We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda for its assistance in the successful resettlement of these four detainees, and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue.?
US officials did not say what restrictions, if any, would be placed on the Uighurs as they are resettled in Bermuda.
?We will consult regularly with the government of Bermuda on the status of these individuals,? Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to discuss negotiations between the US and Bermuda, said the four would not be allowed to travel to the US without prior approval from American authorities.