Three Chinese Muslim detainees cleared for release from the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have applied for political asylum in Canada, lawyers for the men and a group sponsoring them said on Tuesday.
The men are among 17 ethnic Uighurs at the US military prison in Cuba. The US has cleared them for release but fears they could be mistreated or even tortured if they were turned over to China, which says they are terrorists who belong to an outlawed separatist group.
Two of the inmates applied last week and one in October, said Mehmet Tohti, a member of the Uighur Canadian Association, a nonprofit organization that is part of the group sponsoring the men.
Canada has refused several requests from Washington in the past to provide asylum for men cleared for release from Guantanamo. Tohti said there has been no government response so far to the Uighurs’ request.
Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration government agency, said without the consent of the men she could not speak to their specific cases because of privacy laws.
But Norris said in an e-mail that the department’s top priority was protecting the safety and security of Canadians and that a permanent resident or foreign national would not be admitted if there is reason to believe they have “engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism.”
Canada — like other countries — has been reluctant to take on Guantanamo refugees.
On Tuesday, the EU justice chief said European countries that agree to take in Guantanamo detainees could be in line for financial aid. The major parties in the European Parliament are urging EU nations to accept some 45 inmates from Guantanamo Bay.
The administration of former US president George W. Bush set up Guantanamo in January 2002 for suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, many of them plucked from Afghanistan.
In one of his first acts in office, US President Barack Obama ordered Guantanamo shut down within a year. Last month, Obama gave a US task force 30 days to recommend where to put the 245 remaining detainees.
The Bush administration said the Uighurs were too dangerous to be admitted to the US. Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006, but has since balked at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.
Notes prepared for the former Canadian minister of foreign affairs in February 2007, obtained under Canada’s Access to Information Act, showed that the Bush administration had asked Canada to accept Uighur detainees from Xinjiang Province who were deemed to be no threat to national security.
“Canadian officials indicated to the US delegation that the men would likely also be inadmissible under Canadian immigration law,” a Foreign Affairs briefing note from 2007 said.