Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Slovakia Finally Receive Residence Permits

20.7.10

In a rare piece of Guantánamo-related good news, the Slovak Spectator reports today that the three former prisoners released in Slovakia in January have finally been “given permission to permanently reside in the Slovak Republic.”

The three men — Adel Fattough Ali El-Gazzar, from Egypt, Poolad Tsiradzho, from Azerbaijan, and Rafiq al-Hami, from Tunisia — embarked on a hunger strike last month to protest about the conditions in which they were held, in a detention center described by the Slovak Spectator today as “a police detention facility for illegal migrants.”

According to El-Gazzar, the men’s unofficial spokesman, he and his colleagues were “not allowed contact with anyone except for personnel in the facility and their lawyer,” and he “described their living conditions as poor — having only beds and a sink at their disposal and being allowed to leave their rooms for only an hour per day.” He later explained that it was “better” in Guantánamo, because “[w]e could communicate with everyone, [but] here we cannot.”

These statements were contested by the Slovakian authorities, but it was clear that they had been ill-prepared for the men’s arrival — for which the Obama administration must take the ultimate responsibility — because, as a representative of Amnesty International Slovensko explained, the men were concerned because, after five months, their legal status “was still not clear.”

While refuting the men’s claims about their living conditions, Bernard Priecel, the chief officer at the Interior Ministry’s Migration Bureau, conceded that “the lack of clarity on their legal status could be a burden for them.” In a further explanation of their status — or the lack of it — the news agency dpa added, “At the moment they [are] simply foreigners, without asylum seeker status,” even though, when they arrived in Slovakia in January, Interior Minister Robert Kalinak had “promised that their residence permit status would be cleared up quickly.”

A few days after the men started their hunger strike, Tomas Vasilko, a Slovakian journalist, told me that he had spoken to El-Gazzar by phone, and provided a detailed explanation of why he and the other men were so frustrated. “He was really upset about the conditions they live in here,” Vasilko explained, adding, “He told me that firstly, in Guantánamo, the Slovak delegation didn’t mention the word detention — they told them that they would be free with some restrictions. When they arrived in Slovakia they told them they had to stay in a detention facility for asylum seekers for six months, but after that they would get a house in a town with a Muslim community. But one month ago they told the men that plan had changed and they would go to another detention facility for another six months. He was really frustrated and that’s the reason why they started the hunger strike.”

According to the Slovak Spectator, the men have now been “moved to the integration center of the Interior Ministry’s Migration Office in Zvolen where they will take part in six-month integration program.” As was noted in a European Parliament report on “Migration and Asylum in Central and Eastern Europe,” in Zvolen, “recognized refugees are provided with assistance in job seeking, renting an apartment or obtaining other social services.”

This is similar to what the Slovak Spectator noted about the men’s proposed integration, explaining that “Slovakia’s conditions when accepting the former Guantánamo prisoners included that all would learn the Slovak language, receive accommodation and Slovakia would help take care of jobs for them.”

While there has, to date, been some progress on the first of these “conditions,” it is to be hoped that, at the end of this “integration program,” the men will receive decent accommodation and a meaningful opportunity to find employment — and that, throughout this time, a method will also be found to ensure they also receive psychiatric counseling in an effort to recover from their eight-year ordeal in US custody, and the difficult circumstances in which they have been obliged to live for the last six months.

One hopeful sign is that, according to another report in the Slovakian media, the men “will be joined by their families in the integration center,” and if this is confirmed, it will be very good news indeed.

Andy Worthington is the author of 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on Cageprisoners.

6 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Slovakia Finally Receive Residence Permits | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dominique Rodier, Andy Worthington. Andy Worthington said: Former Guantanamo Prisoners in Slovakia Finally Receive Residence Permits – Some rare good news in relation to Gitmo: http://bit.ly/aUXpmF […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are some comments from Facebook:

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    This is great news, Andy and thanks for passing it on. I had a friend held in a detention camp in Slovakia and he spoke of similar conditions to these three Guantanamo men. I can’t find any good words to say about Slovakia. This country defied a ruling by the ECHR and extradited my friend to Algeria where he was held incommunicado by the DRS. Hopefully these men can settle there happily with their families or are able to move elsewhere eventually. I wish them well.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Yes, Andy, I hope this is a good news story for these three guys. There is so much bad news around regarding Guantanamo. The US is determined to tie itself in knots rather than do the right thing — even eventually.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Yes indeed, Willy. On Guantanamo, the US really is without leadership — and there are deeply worrying signs that the Supreme Court is giving up on it too.
    See: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/07/21/obama-and-us-courts-repatriate-algerian-from-guantanamo-against-his-will-may-be-complicit-in-torture/

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sameera Farouk wrote:

    Thank you for sharing, Andy!!!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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