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Back into Bermuda’s lap

UK Minister declares Uighur refugees to be Bermuda’s problem to solve

By Ayo Johnson

United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds left Bermuda yesterday with a long list of areas of UK-Bermuda cooperation to develop but helping Bermuda out of the Uighur dilemma is not on the agenda.

“That is a matter for the Bermuda Government. It is not a matter for the United Kingdom Government,” said Mr Simmonds when asked whether the Uighurs’ situation was any closer to resolution.

“I have had discussions to understand the complexity of some of these issues but it is a matter for the Bermuda Government.”

Ablikim Turahun, Khalil Mamut, Abdulla Abdulqadir and Salahidin Andulahad were part of a consignment of 17 Muslims from western China who were released by US authorities after being held unlawfully in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba as “enemy combatants”.

But the four were left stateless after they were brought to the Island under a deal arranged by then-Premier Dr Ewart Brown

Lawyer Richard Horseman, who has been representing the four men since their arrival on the Island, was unsurprised by the stance.

“That’s been the consistent position adopted by the UK Government — that it’s Bermuda’s problem, since they were brought here without consultation. Hopefully Britain will step in at some juncture to help the men.”

Last month, Mr Horseman reported that Government would be holding talks with the US and the UK authorities. But it now appears that the UK, for the moment at least, is not minded to assist the Bermuda Government out of its dilemma.

“Bermuda Government have indicated that they are in dialogue with the US and Britain. We don’t expect early resolution,” Mr Horseman said.

Granting the men status would require a change in the law and, says Mr Horseman, there is likely little appetite for that among the Island’s parliamentarians.

Nor can they be granted refugee status because the Refugee Convention does not apply to Bermuda. But Mr Horseman remains optimistic.

“I’m hopeful that the UK is going to help because we can’t go on forever like this. The only way that they can get status is if the MPs change the law and then you have to question will the Governor assent to this?

“It does appear under the legislation that there may be a window to naturalise them as Overseas Territories citizens but we’re still researching that.”

The UK has always insisted that the men have no entitlement to British citizenship or British Overseas Territories citizenship, and are not eligible to apply for British passports.

Premier Craig Cannonier, accompanied by Finance Minister Bob Richards, formally welcomed Mr Simmonds to the Island at a Cabinet Office press briefing yesterday morning.

The local politicians were not present at Mr Simmonds’ final briefing at Government House.

Accompanied by Governor George Fergusson, Mr Simmonds told the media that his visit had been productive and positive.

“My primary function for being here is to build on the positive and warm relationship that Bermuda and the UK already have,” he said. “To understand more about the opportunities and challenges that exist in Bermuda and to discuss with Ministers some of the opportunities that Bermuda and the UK have in working more closely together where appropriate and where it is of benefit to Bermuda.”

He said areas of cooperation include trade, health, education and fighting gang crime.

Mr Simmonds added that he was impressed by Bermuda’s “ambition” to maintain its leadership on international regulatory structure on financial service, “and also the determination to make sure that the issues that relate to the fiscal challenges in the UK and Bermuda are tackled in a responsible and sustainable way.

“So we’ve got a list of things that we are going to develop when I return to the United Kingdom. And I’m very keen to encourage and facilitate even closer and stronger ties than already exist.”

When contacted last night, a Government spokeswoman, speaking for the Minister of Home Affairs said: “In recent months the Ministry can confirm that it has commenced a review of the Uighur matter and is currently exploring options.”

Britainís Minister for the Overseas Territories Mark Simmonds speaks, as Governor George Fergusson, Premier Craig Cannonier and Finance Minister Bob Richards look on during a press conference held at the Cabinet Building Friday (Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published April 27, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 27, 2013 at 7:34 am)

Back into Bermuda’s lap

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