Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: stranded in Albania

21.10.07

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Finer updates the sad story of five Uyghurs –- Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, which borders Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan –- who were released from Guantánamo in May 2006. The five men –- and 13 of their compatriots, who remain in Guantánamo –- were all captured by enterprising Pakistani villagers in December 2001, having crossed the border after a US bombing raid destroyed the rundown hamlet in the Tora Bora mountains where they had been living, repairing the settlement’s battered buildings and occasionally, while dreaming of revenge against the Chinese government that had taken over their homeland (formerly known as East Turkistan), firing a shot from their only weapon, an ancient AK-47.

Apparently regarded as guiltless almost from the moment they were handed over to the Americans, they were nevertheless regarded as valuable intelligence assets, able to provide insights into the workings of the Chinese government. In a cruel twist, however, the Americans also invited Chinese intelligence agents to Guantánamo to interrogate them, which was a disturbing experience, according to those who spoke about it in their tribunals. Dawut Abdurehim, one of those still held at Guantánamo, said after the visit that he was vaguely threatened, but reported that “some other Uyghurs had conversations with bad, dirty language,” in which they were told by the Chinese delegation that, “when we go back to the country, we’d be killed or sentenced to prison for a long time.”

After the first round of administrative hearings at Guantánamo –- the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, held in 2004-05, and designed to confirm that all Guantánamo’s inhabitants were “enemy combatants” –- the five men were among the lucky 38 (out of 558 detainees in total) who were cleared for release, although their 13 companions –- whose stories were identical –- were not so fortunate. Although some were cleared for release during the following year’s Administrative Review Boards, others were judged still to be “enemy combatants.” These discrepancies caused consternation to the administration, as described by an Army Major who criticized the tribunals two weeks ago, and in one particularly notorious incident, the authorities were so dissatisfied with the results of the tribunals that they ordered second tribunals to be held, which duly reversed the decisions, even though, as lawyers for one of the Uyghurs noted, there was no “additional classified information” to warrant such a change.

While the 13 unlucky Uyghurs (and four others, captured in different circumstances) were all eventually cleared, they, like at least 60 other cleared men from countries with dubious human rights records, remain in Guantánamo, having missed the escape route that opened up briefly last year for Abu Qadder Basim, one of the five men cleared after the CSRTs, and his four companions. In the face of very real fears that they would be tortured or killed if returned to China, the irony-free US administration, which clearly felt that it had given them five-star treatment since capturing them in December 2001, spent 18 months fishing around for other countries malleable and poor enough to be bullied into accepting them, finally settling on Albania.

They were delivered to a UN refugee camp in the capital, Tirana, in May 2006 –- and followed, in December, by three more innocent but stateless unfortunates, who were also granted a moment of dubious pity by the administration that had so carelessly and callously ruined their lives in the first place: Ala Salim, an Islamic scholar from Egypt, who was working for a humanitarian aid agency in Pakistan; Fethi Boucetta, a doctor turned teacher from Algeria, who was brazenly seized from his house in Peshawar, when the required suspect was not at home; and Zakirjan Hassam, a poor refugee disenfranchised by the atomization of the Soviet Union, who was sold to the Americans by Afghan villagers.

Abu Qadder Basim

Abu Qadder Basim in Albania.

Sixteen months later, speaking to Finer by mobile phone with the help of an interpreter, Abu Qadder Basim explained that, although they “embraced their new life in Albania” for a while, “they are unable to work or reunite with family members.” From what Finer described as a “spartan room, adorned only with a wall calendar, a few worn Korans, a small fan and a paperback copy of Albanian for Foreigners,” he said, “Obviously you can’t compare this life to Guantánamo, which is a prison,” but added, “We have requested an independent life here, to bring our families here, to be trained and have some work to do, to live in our own apartments. But even after we were released and they said we did nothing wrong, we have no hope for the future.”

Unlike the rest of the camp’s inhabitants –- mostly from Albania’s neighbors –- the Uyghurs have little in common with the camp’s other residents, who, as Finer puts it, can “blend easily into the crowd on Tirana’s busy streets,” and are “beginning to feel abandoned.” Finer reports that their Albanian language classes stopped over the summer, that a promise of $200-a-month apartments, to be paid for in the first year by the government and the United Nations, has not materialized, and that no progress has been made on reuniting them with their families or finding them work. Another of the five, Adel Abdul Hakim, explained, “Albania has tried to help us and we are grateful, but this is an undeveloped country, and even many Albanians can’t work or make enough money. They can give us an apartment for a year, but it isn’t sustainable, when most Albanians only make about $300 a month. Then what do we do?”

Unsurprisingly, Sali Berisha, the Prime Minister of this fiercely pro-American country, which greeted President Bush like a hero on a recent visit, has a more upbeat prognosis. Failing to mention that Dick Cheney endorsed Albania’s membership of NATO two days after agreeing to tidy up America’s mistakes, Berisha stated recently that accepting the Uyghurs “was a human rights gesture and a normal one. These men could not have gone back to their own countries, that is for sure.” He added, pointing the blame at other countries, which, for quite understandable reasons, have refused to clean up the big man’s mess, “I have been very surprised that others are unwilling to do this. On the one hand they are blaming Guantánamo, on the other they say, ‘Don’t send them here.’”

Berisha then proceeded to deny that the US administration had “offered any incentives” for Albania to take in the Uyghurs, noting that they might take more Guantánamo detainees, although Finer pointed out, accurately, that it was unlikely that they would take any of the other 17 Uyghurs, having already attracted the wrath of China, “a longtime ally and trading partner in Albania’s communist days,” which has persistently demanded their return to China. Bravely, however, or perhaps having consulted the treasury, Berisha explained that China’s demands had been rebuffed. “I asked the Chinese to bring me any evidence, if they have them, of terrorist activities, but nothing came,” he said. “We cannot send them somewhere when we aren’t sure due process is applied. We are European. Now that file is closed. They are here and they will slowly, step by step, be integrated. They will have a good life here.”

While this conclusion remains in doubt, praise for the Uyghurs has also come from the camp’s director, Hidajet Cera, who, as Finer describes it, “communicates with them through a Chinese-speaking interpreter (though their main language is a Uyghur dialect) when one can be found.” At other times, he notes, “the translation is done by an Algerian refugee who speaks French and Arabic, which the Uyghurs can speak conversationally.” “They are the best guys in this place,” Cera explained. “They have never given us one minute’s problem. We try to do what we can for them. We offer them a special menu. We have a van and a driver at their disposal if they want to go into town. It is hard because if you look at Albanian society, the way they live, they are not at the bottom.”

For Abu Qadder Basim, even such praise is not enough. He explained to Finer that every Friday they go to a mosque to pray, but have otherwise “more or less stopped venturing out of the camp.” “It is frustrating not to be able to speak with anyone,” he explained. “So we basically spend the whole day here, praying and going on the internet. It’s a very simple life. Outside of the camp, you see people with their families, and it makes us think of our families and our kids.”

Note: According to the Pentagon’s records, the five released men were Abu Bakker Qasim, Ahmed Adil, Akhdar Basit, Abdul Abdulhehim and Haji Mohammed Ayub. While Qasim is clearly Abu Qadder Basim, it has not been possible to identify Adel Abdul Hakim, although he is probably Abdul Abdulhehim. So much for justice, when even your name is irrelevant.

For more on the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

32 Responses

  1. Albania » Blog Archives » Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: stranded in Albania says...

    [...] Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: stranded in Albania malleable and poor enough to be bullied into accepting them, finally settling on Albania…. Abu Qadder Basim in Albania. [...]

  2. A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] in a UN refugee camp in Tirana has not been without its problems — there is no Uyghur community in Albania, no prospect of work, and no opportunity for the men to [...]

  3. mui says...

    The Uyghurs should be given the option to reside in the US. IMHO the detainees have been made stateless. China doesn’t want them.The guilt lies with the Bush administration. And what’s worse we American taxpayers have been made conspirators to the Bush administrations crimes. Reparations should be made.

  4. Santa Radar says...

    I know one of them left Albania and is living in Sweden with his sister. Albania is poor country and non of those guys want to live there. I feel sorry for those guys but are in wrong place.

  5. Bill Corr says...

    One Uyghur left hospitable-but-poor Albania for Sweden to live with his sister?
    Super!
    Is he on the Swedish welfare tit like almost every pitiable refugee the sapheaded Swedes have welcomed?
    Is his sister on the Swedish welfare tit?

    The Somali rapists and the Kurdish heroin dealers have found Sweden a truly welcoming haven.
    What special gifts will these Uyghurs bestow on the oh-so-lucky Swedes who have provided them with a home?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Wow! What colossal bigotry! What sweeping and unsubstantiated generalizations!

  7. freedetainees.org » Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs says...

    [...] camp in the Albanian capital, Tirana. Although grateful to be freed from Guantánamo, the men had difficulty adjusting to life in Albania, which is a Muslim country, but is also one of the poorest countries in Europe, with little [...]

  8. Andy Worthington: A Letter to Barack Obama from a Guantanamo Uighur | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] the 22 were freed from Guantánamo, after being cleared in a military review, and sent to live in a refugee camp in Albania, the only country that could be persuaded to accept them after the U.S. authorities acknowledged [...]

  9. A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] the 22 were freed from Guantánamo, after being cleared in a military review, and sent to live in a refugee camp in Albania, the only country that could be persuaded to accept them after the US authorities acknowledged that [...]

  10. Bill Corr says...

    The Uighers might try Finland.
    They’d need some acting skills and be prepared to stick to the story that they are persecuted gay Iranians fleeing in fear of their lives.
    An unconfirmed news report claims that the gullible and sapheaded Finns are – at present – willing to welcome every Iranian who claims to be a persecuted gay.
    Other reports from the chilly North suggest that the Finns may be tiring of the Kurds and Somallis, who are grabbing far more than their proportiionate share of prison accomodation, so please tell any passing Uighers not to try passing themselves off as Kurds or Somalis.

  11. Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] found that was prepared to risk the wrath of the People’s Republic by emulating Albania, which accepted five other Uighurs in 2006, they were to be moved to the United States, where communities in Washington D.C. and [...]

  12. Political Jib.com » Andy Worthington: Free The Guantanamo Uighurs! says...

    [...] that was prepared to risk the wrath of the People’s Republic by emulating Albania, which accepted five other Uighurs in 2006, they were to be moved to the United States, where communities in Washington D.C. and [...]

  13. Political Jib.com » Andy Worthington: From Guantanamo To The South Pacific: Is This A Joke? says...

    [...] of rehousing five other Uighurs in 2006, the Bush administration secured, for an undisclosed sum, the cooperation of Albania (a Muslim nation, albeit a poor one, with no other Uighurs and little work), but that escape route [...]

  14. From Guantánamo To The South Pacific: Is This A Joke? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] of rehousing five other Uighurs in 2006, the Bush administration secured, for an undisclosed sum, the cooperation of Albania (a Muslim nation, albeit a poor one, with no other Uighurs and little work), but that escape route [...]

  15. Political Jib.com » Andy Worthington: Who Are the Four Guantanamo Uighurs Sent to Bermuda? says...

    [...] will probably have an easier time adapting to their new life than the five other Uighurs who were rehoused in Albania in 2006. Unlike Albania, Bermuda is a wealthy country, and, in addition, the men “have been [...]

  16. Get your News » Andy Worthington: House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantanamo says...

    [...] 13 of the Uighurs are still held at Guantánamo (five were released in Albania in 2006, and four in Bermuda last month), all of the men — Muslims from China’s [...]

  17. Andy Worthington: House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantanamo » A Couple Things » A couple things about politics, sports, travel, and other stuff. says...

    [...] 13 of the Uighurs are still held at Guantánamo (five were released in Albania in 2006, and four in Bermuda last month), all of the men — Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, [...]

  18. An Interview With Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Part One) by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] never resolved in a way that the Secretary or Pierre was very happy with, and in fact we wound up placing a few Uighurs in Albania, that was the only country that would take them [...]

  19. The Story of Oybek Jabbarov, An Innocent Man Freed From Guantánamo « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] danger of persecution or torture should they be forcibly returned, and no country, other than Albania, has been willing to accept these refugees from Guantánamo for resettlement.  Indeed, the United [...]

  20. Uighur prisoner asks what is the difference between the US constitution and the Communist constitution? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] have also written about how five of the 22 Uighurs in Guantánamo were released in Albania in May 2006, and how the others had to wait another two years for a US court to have the right to [...]

  21. Will The Maldives Take Three Guantánamo Prisoners? « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] was the only country to accept cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, taking eight men in total, including five Uighurs, but Prime Minister Berisha noted that his country would not be taking any more Uighurs, because it [...]

  22. Swiss Take Two Guantánamo Uighurs, Save Obama from Having to Do the Right Thing « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] May 2006, Albania was persuaded to take five of these men, but the other 17 had to wait until October 2008, when Judge Ricardo [...]

  23. Andy Worthington: Swiss Take Two Guantanamo Uighurs, Solve Obama’s Problem says...

    [...] May 2006, Albania was persuaded to take five of these men, but the other 17 had to wait until October 2008, when Judge Ricardo [...]

  24. No Escape from Guantanamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court « EUROPE TURKMEN FRIENDSHIPS says...

    [...] boards concluded that they were innocent men, seized by mistake. Five were released in May 2006, given new homes in a refugee camp in Albania, the only country that would accept them, but the remaining 17 languished until their habeas corpus [...]

  25. No Escape From Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court » World Uyghur Congress says...

    [...] boards concluded that they were innocent men, seized by mistake. Five were released in May 2006, given new homes in a refugee camp in Albania, the only country that would accept them, but the remaining 17 languished until their habeas corpus [...]

  26. Who Are Remaining Prisoners In Guantánamo? Part Three: Captured Crossing From Afghanistan Into Pakistan » World Uyghur Congress says...

    [...] returned to the other Uighurs in the mountains, taking Razak with him.” Five of the Uighurs were released in Albania in May 2006, and the remaining 17 — including Razak — won their habeas corpus petitions in [...]

  27. Andy Worthington: Who Are the Four Guantanamo Uighurs Sent to Bermuda? | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] will probably have an easier time adapting to their new life than the five other Uighurs who were rehoused in Albania in 2006. Unlike Albania, Bermuda is a wealthy country, and, in addition, the men “have been [...]

  28. Andy Worthington: House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantanamo | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] 13 of the Uighurs are still held at Guantánamo (five were released in Albania in 2006, and four in Bermuda last month), all of the men — Muslims from China’s [...]

  29. Andy Worthington: A Plea To Barack Obama From The Guantanamo Uighurs | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] no third country could be found that would accept them (after Albania risked the wrath of China by accepting five other Uighur prisoners in May [...]

  30. WikiLeaks And The 22 Children Of Guantanamo says...

    [...] Ayub ISN 279, China) Born 15 April 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 17), released May 2006 in Albania. One of 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who were detained by [...]

  31. “Close Guantánamo” Calls on US Communities to Demand Release of Cleared Prisoners in US |  SHOAH says...

    [...] their habeas corpus petitions considered by the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., they were flown to Tirana, and given new homes in a UN refugee [...]

  32. WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Ayub ISN 279, China) Born 15 April 1984, seized December 2001 (aged 17), released May 2006 in Albania. One of 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who were detained by […]

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington Bagram British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Guantanamo Habeas corpus Hunger strikes Lewisham London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Photos President Obama Reprieve Save Lewisham A&E Shaker Aamer Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts WikiLeaks Yemenis