KOROR, Palau — Six Chinese Muslims who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay arrived Sunday in the tiny Pacific nation of Palau for resettlement, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
The men arrived in Palau early Sunday, the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, told The Associated Press.
U.S.-based lawyers for three of the released men confirmed the transfer of the six former detainees, saying they “arrived to freedom” in Palau.
“These men want nothing more than to live peaceful, productive lives in a free, democratic nation safe from oppression by the Chinese,” said Eric Tirschwell of Kramer Levin Naftalis&Frankel law firm. “Thanks to Palau, which has graciously offered them a temporary home, they now have that chance.”
Overnight, about 10 policemen stood outside the home where the men will live, on a side street in the heart of Koror, where most of Palau’s 20,000 residents live and work.
A convoy of cars pulled up to the house but it was not immediately clear whether the former detainees were there yet. Lights were on in the second and third floors of the building and people, including a heavily bearded man, could be seen moving around inside.
The house, with a bank on the ground floor, has undergone construction in recent weeks to accommodate the men. It is a five-minute walk from Koror’s only mosque, one of two on the island.
Palau has a Muslim population of about 500, mostly migrant workers from Bangladesh. The president announced last week that half of those could be deported due to lapsed work permits.
Palau offered earlier this year to resettle the men, who are members of the Uighur (pronounced WEE’-gur) minority. They have been held by the U.S. since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001.
The Pentagon determined last year that the Uighurs were not “enemy combatants” but they have been in legal limbo ever since.
Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region of China that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They are Turkic-speaking Muslims who say they have long been repressed by the Chinese government. They fear they would be arrested, tortured or executed if sent back to China.
China has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang and wants them returned.
President Barack Obama, who has promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by next January, has sought a country willing to take the Uighurs.
Four Uighur detainees were resettled in Bermuda this year. In addition to the six just arrived, Palau has offered to take six of the seven others still held at Guantanamo. One remaining Uighur did not receive an invitation to Palau over concerns about his mental health.
Before this transfer of the Uighurs, there were about 221 prisoners still held at Guantanamo.
Spokesmen for the isolated U.S. jail in southeast Cuba did not immediately return calls or emails.
Made up of eight main islands plus more than 250 islets, Palau is best known for diving and tourism and is located some 500 miles (800 kilometres) east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.