Uighur refugees granted citizenship
Four Uighur refugees have been granted citizenship nine years after a secret deal with the United States to give them asylum on the island.
The move was welcomed by Ewart Brown, the former premier, who arranged their transfer to Bermuda.
The home affairs ministry confirmed the former detainees at Guantánamo Bay have been made British Overseas Territory citizens.
The decision, which made the men eligible for passports, ended years of uncertainty for the men, who have wives and children on the island.
A home affairs spokeswoman said that there was “currently no legislation that would give them Bermudian status”.
Abdullah Abdulqadir, Salahidin Abdulahat, Khalil Mamut and Abilikim Turahun, originally from Western China, were held by the US as suspected terrorists for seven years before they were cleared.
They were given asylum in June 2009 by Dr Brown, then Premier, and Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, who was at the time the minister responsible for immigration.
The US used the Cuban prison camp to hold 22 Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members said they faced persecution by the Chinese Government.
They were sent to new homes overseas once the American Government ruled that they were not “enemy combatants”.
Dr Brown negotiated with the US Government to bring the four to the island, but never obtained the consent of Britain.
The move angered Dr Brown’s colleagues and sparked a political firestorm.
Dr Brown and Colonel Burch defended the decision on humanitarian grounds, but the four have been stateless since their arrival.
Dr Brown said last night: “I feel, as I felt in the beginning, that this was part of doing the right thing — we did the right thing to give them safe haven, and now Government House has done the right thing by granting them their citizenship.
“Once I met these gentlemen, I observed that they are simply hard working and God fearing, and they deserved this. They deserved it a lot earlier.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a reasonable explanation as to why they did not receive their citizenship, but I’m really happy that they have.”
Dr Brown added: “It has taken them longer than the time that they were in Guantánamo to get it.”
The men will now hold the same rights as Bermudians, except the right to vote.
Peter Sanderson, an immigration lawyer, said yesterday that the Uighurs and their families were now regarded as “belonging” to Bermuda.
Naturalisation will also cover their children up to the age of 18.
Mr Sanderson said it was “unclear” what their children’s status would become after the age of 18 as the Bermuda Constitution sets a cut-off at that age for “belonging”.
The Uighurs will also have the right to register as British citizens, which would allow them to live anywhere in the UK.
The men have always maintained they had no terror links and left China for work.
They have been housed in government property since their arrival and held construction and landscaping jobs.
Mr Mamut told The Royal Gazette in 2013 that his young son had been unable to fly overseas for medical treatment because he had no passport.
He added: “Since we have been here, the Bermuda Government and people of Bermuda have been so kind to us and so friendly. We have never been abused by people. I thank you all.”
Richard Horseman, the lawyer for the four men, made repeated calls for their immigration status to be settled.
He declined to discuss the case and the decision last night, but he added: “It’s been a long time coming.”