Finland, Sweden consider asylum for Gitmo Uighurs

Finnish officials are deliberating on whether to offer asylum to former terror suspects detained at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay. The US has proposed that Finland take in Uighur prisoners, members of the Turkic minority in western China. Some 15 Uighurs are currently imprisoned at Guantánamo, and are unable to return to China for fear of being tortured. The facility houses about 250 prisoners and has held about 750 prisoners since it began operations. It is unclear how Finland would classify the detainees, who have not been charged with any crimes. Most likely, they would be considered refugees. (UNPO, Jan. 8)

Sweden has just rejected an asylum plea from Adel Hakimjan, who has been been shunted from country to country since being arrested by US forces in Afghanistan. Adel, 34, fled his home and family in China in 1999, having been accused by the Chinese authorities of being part of the East Turkestan Independence Movement. After he was harassed, tortured and imprisoned by the Chinese, he decided to travel to Turkey where he hoped to find work. But in late 2001 he found himself in Afghanistan, where he says he was sold to US forces by bounty hunters and ended up at a detention facility in Kandahar. He was later transfered to Guantánamo, where interrogations continued until a Combatant Status Review Tribunal concluded he had not been an “illegal combatant” and he was moved to Camp Iguana, a far less severe regime.

His worst experience at Guantanamo, he says, was when the US allowed Chinese interrogators to question him. “Compared to the American interrogators, the Chinese were more brutal,” Hakimjan told the BBC. “The Chinese threatened us by saying: ‘Don’t think that you are untouchables because you are currently in American custody. We came here to take you back to China. You may not talk to us here, but you will be talking to us when we get you to Urumqi or Beijing. We will then try to settle the matter.’

Hakimjan was among a group of Uighurs who were released to Albania after launching a legal challenge to their transfer to China. In Albania, they were initially held at an immigration camp, where they were promised housing, travel documents, language courses and help finding a job. But the housing and documents took months to materialize and the language courses were abruptly stopped, after just three classes. He also says the Chinese government made repeated efforts to have Albania hand all the Uighurs over to China, and he feared the Chinese would simply “pay someone to harm us without being directly involved itself.”

In November 2007, Adel’s lawyers persuaded Sweden to give him a four-day visa to lecture about human rights. Upon his arrival, he immediately applied for asylum. The Swedes rejected his claim and he’s now appealing against their decision.

Says his lawyer, Sten de Geer: “Albania should not be considered the first country of asylum because Adel has not chosen Albania as his country of asylum. He has been forced to apply for asylum there. As his sister is living in Sweden, and she’s the only relative he has outside China, there are very strong humanitarian reasons to give him a permit to live here.”

Adel has a wife and three children back in China, the youngest of whom he has never seen. (BBC News, Jan. 7)

See our last posts on Gitmo and Uighurs.