Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden


In a blow to hopes that Sweden could be persuaded to lead the way in offering asylum to some of the 70 or so prisoners in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release but who cannot be returned to their home countries because of international treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture, the Swedish Migration Board has just turned down an asylum claim from Adel Abdul Hakim, a Chinese Uyghur who was held in Guantánamo for over four years.

Adel Abdul Hakim (right)

Adel applied for asylum on November 20 last year, during a visit from Albania, where he had been living since he and four other cleared Uyghurs were sent there, to live in a UN refugee camp in the capital, Tirana, in May 2006. Albania was the only country that could be prevailed upon by the US administration to accept wrongly imprisoned men who could not be repatriated, but although life was better than in Guantánamo, Albania was not an adequate destination for the men. Although it is a Muslim country, no Uyghur community exists there, and the men had no opportunities to find work, and no hope of ever seeing their families again.

Last November, after NGOs and lawyers arranged a temporary visa for Adel, so that he could speak at a human rights conference and meet his sister and niece, who are both living in Sweden, Adel applied for asylum, reasonably confident that his application would be granted because Sweden fulfilled so many of the UN’s requirements for refugees that were not being met in Albania. According to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook (2004), “resettlement as a durable solution must be accompanied by meaningful prospects for local integration, characterized in part by access to work that provides a living wage; education; fundamental medical (including necessary psychological) services; property; and family support or the support of a similarly situated refugee community.”

As a result, the Migration Board’s decision is a cruel blow. Although, technically, the Board is correct to assert that Adel “has a residence permit for Albania, where he does not risk deportation to China,” (as a Swedish paper, The Local, reported), the decision callously disregards the UN’s requirements, and condemns Adel to return to a country where, though safe, his quality of life is grossly inadequate.

“I thought I would be able to stay,” Adel said after the decision was announced. “I have clarified my reasons but got rejected.” His lawyer, Sten de Geer, also complained, reiterating that Albania will not permit Adel’s wife and three children to join him, calling the decision “an unparalleled scandal,” and adding, “This is a larger political question regarding developments in Guantánamo. There are 40-50 prisoners there who are clearly innocent and who may not be sent back to their home countries as they risk torture. But no other country wants to take them either, and that is why they remain there. Amongst them are 16 [actually 17] Uyghurs,” who, it should be noted, have also been cleared for release but cannot leave Guantánamo now that Albania’s largesse has dried up. Sten de Geer pointed out that the European Parliament has encouraged EU countries to grant asylum to prisoners like Adel, adding, poignantly, “Sweden has chosen not to be a leader in this case.”

Adel will, of course, appeal his decision, as Sten de Geer explained, and from Boston, Sabin Willett, who fought for years to secure Adel’s release from Guantánamo, sent me an even more inspiring message: “We have not yet begun to fight!”

Andy 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

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), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 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), 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.

6 Responses

  1. The New Dominion » Adel Hakimjan says...

    […] and Albania, to Sweden, where he arrived to give a lecture in November 2007. This June 2008, he was denied asylum by Sweden’s Migration Board and was meant to have been deported, but has since remained there […]

  2. » Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs says...

    […] June, however, the Swedish government turned down Adel’s asylum application. He promptly appealed, and today’s decision therefore marks the end of his seven and a half year […]

  3. Adel Hakimjan | The New Dominion says...

    […] and Albania, to Sweden, where he arrived to give a lecture in November 2007. This June 2008, he was denied asylum by Sweden’s Migration Board and was meant to have been deported, but has since remained there […]

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    In its 2010 Annual Report, Amnesty International stated, “In February, the Stockholm Migration Court recognized Adel Abdul Hakim, a Chinese national of Uighur ethnicity released from US custody in Guantánamo Bay in 2006, as a refugee. This decision overturned the June 2008 refusal by the Migration Board to grant him a residence permit.”

  5. Andy Worthington says...

  6. Uighurs Freed From Guantánamo Are Still Deprived Of Fundamental Rights – OpEd | NOQTA says...

    […] was eventually accepted as a refugee in 2009, despite having his asylum claim turned down in 2008. As I noted above, however, the Chinese government clearly follows the […]

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