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Uighurs plan renewed bid for British naturalisation

Bermuda's four Uighur refugees plan to wait until the five-year anniversary of when they were secretly brought to the Island to renew their push for British naturalisation.

The men, originally from western China, have been effectively marooned here since their arrival in 2009 — and now their children are in limbo as well.

Addressing Amnesty International Bermuda's annual Colin Horsfield Memorial Lecture at the Wesley Methodist Church's Dyer Hall last night on the topic of being “stateless”, Khalil Mamut recounted how his infant son couldn't fly overseas for treatment of a medical complaint because, like his father, he has no passport. However, 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.”

And Mr Mamut called himself “optimistic” that he, along with Salahidin Andulahad, Abdulla Abdulqadir and Ablikim Turahun, would eventually obtain citizenship along with their children.

The four were brought to Bermuda in 2009 from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they had been held for a time as “enemy combatants” then in a more relaxed regime before being flown here. The US originally seized the four during its attack on Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

The US now refuses to grant them asylum. The men steadfastly maintain they have no terror links and say they left China for work.

The deal, brokered with the US by then Premier Dr Ewart Brown, left the men stranded, while other Uighurs held at Guantánamo who went to countries like Sweden and Switzerland were eventually issued with passports.

Although citizenship was promised, the power to issue passports to the men and their four children — who range in age from four months to two years — now lies solely with the British Government.

Their lawyer Richard Horseman said it was imperative to move the issue beyond recriminations over the “poorly thought-out” move to bring them to Bermuda. “The only solution is going to come from Britain,” he said. “Unfortunately, we all know the manner in which they were brought here — Britain was not happy at all.”

Bermuda's government continues to discuss the issue with the US and the UK, he said, but local authorities are “hamstrung”.

The four men live with their wives and children in a police compound, and are privately employed in construction and landscaping jobs.

The wives of the Uighurs hold Chinese passports, but the Chinese authorities won't issue the Uighurs' children with their own documents because they regard their fathers as enemies of the state.

Their home territory is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is fraught with political, religious and ethnic tensions. Bermuda's Uighurs risk being jailed if they return to Chinese soil. Added Mr Horseman: “Hopefully something will get done and Britain will help in the future, but you're up against the economic interests of countries that risk the wrath of China.”

One option could be to directly fly the four and their families to a country with the power to take them in and grant them citizenship.

“There have been efforts to look into other places,” Mr Horseman said. “I'm not at liberty to say more.”

An amendment to local immigration laws would still require the approval of Britain, he added.

“We'll give it a shot, when it reaches five years, to see whether they can be naturalised as British Overseas citizens,” he said. “We'll have to see whether Britain will be prepared to do that.”

In the meantime, the Island's school system will have to take on four stateless children.

“They have to get schooled by law,” Mr Horseman said. “We may have some Uighur children in our public school system soon.”

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Khalil Mamut fields questions at Amnesty International Bermuda's Colin Horsefield Lecture on human rights with his lawyer, Richard Horseman last night. Mr Mamut and three other ethnic Uighurs from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China arrived in Bermuda in 2009 in what Government at the time called a “humanitarian” gesture.

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Published October 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 25, 2013 at 12:17 am)

Uighurs plan renewed bid for British naturalisation

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