THE LAST three of the 22 Uighur Chinese nationals to be transferred from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center after being held by the United States since 2002 will try to build a new life in Slovakia. The US Department of Defense announced the transfer of Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik, and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper, members of a persecuted Muslim ethnic minority in China, on December 31. While the US appreciated what it called Slovakia’s humanitarian gesture, China criticised the move, called the Uighurs terrorists and demanded their extradition to China.

The ethnic Uighur Chinese nationals, who are not enemy combatants according to US officials, were subject to release from Guantanamo as a result of a court order issued on October 7, 2008, by the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and are voluntarily resettling in Slovakia, according to an official statement by the US Department of Defense.

“The United States coordinated with the government of Slovakia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in the release.

US Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick said that the United States “greatly appreciates Slovakia’s humanitarian gesture” in resettling the three Uighurs, adding that closing the prison facility is a priority of US President Barack Obama.

“In taking the last three Uighurs, Slovakia has significantly contributed to this effort,” Sedgwick said.

The transfer of the Uighurs from the controversial prison facility, which was founded following the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, is already the second resettlement with Slovakia’s assistance.

In February 2010, Slovakia accepted three former Guantanamo detainees from Egypt, Azerbaijan and Tunisia.

“Just as in the case of the first transport, also now, these are persons who have never been suspected or charged with the crime of terrorism,” Interior Ministry spokesman Ivan Netík told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the transfer is a continuation of the agreement from 2009.

The ministry has refused to provide details about their resettlement to Slovakia and the planned location.

The US and Slovakia have worked together for over a decade to assist, support and resettle refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from around the world, said Matthew Miller, press attaché of the US Embassy, who suggested that “this long-standing and ongoing cooperation is excellent ”.

Slovakia’s humanitarian gesture is very important because it allows the last of the 22 Uighurs who were held in Guantanamo “to begin rebuilding their lives”, Miller told The Slovak Spectator.

China condemns move

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the released former prisoners are terrorists, describing them as having links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, according to the Reuters newswire.

The Chinese Embassy in Slovakia said, as quoted by the Sme daily, that it opposes any country accepting these prisoners.

“We hope that Slovakia meets its international obligations and will not provide shelter for terrorists, but as soon as possible will extradite them to China,” Chinese Embassy spokesman Ji Wang told Sme.

The three Uighurs have not been charged with any terrorism-related crimes. Netík has continued to emphasise that they do not represent a security risk for Slovakia.

In response to China’s claims, Miller said that the US long ago determined that “these individuals are not enemy combatants and should not be held as enemy combatants”.

“In addition to that, a US Federal Court five years ago ordered their release based on evidence,” Miller told The Slovak Spectator. “All of the national security agencies in the US government unanimously concluded that these individuals should be transferred, and the State Department, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, intelligence community, and Department of Homeland Security all agreed that these three should be transferred from Guantanamo.”

The previous three

Three Guantanamo prisoners, from Egypt, Azerbaijan and Tunisia, were resettled in Slovakia at the end of January 2010. As a condition of their residency, the prisoners agreed to learn Slovak. The government agreed to help them find jobs and provide accommodation.

Sme on January 2 reported that of the three former Guantanamo prisoners, probably only one is still in Slovakia. Two, Adil al-Gazzar from Egypt and Rafik Hami from Tunisia, returned home when autocratic regimes fell in their homelands. Only Poolad Tsiradzho from Azerbaijan has reportedly stayed in Slovakia.

The three men announced a hunger strike in a police detention facility for illegal migrants in Medveďov in June 2010 in protest against the living conditions. They were given permission to permanently reside in the Slovak Republic in July 2010.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story