Fri, Feb 20, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Guantanamo refugees in Uruguay draw criticism

AP, MONTEVIDEO

Controversy is flaring over the six Guantanamo detainees taken in by Uruguay for resettlement, with even the man who pushed through the plan, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, seeming to criticize them for lacking a work ethic.

The men were locked up for more than a dozen years at the US Navy base in Cuba before they were brought to Montevideo in December last year. Mujica agreed to accept them as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established in a country of 3.3 million people with a total Muslim population of about 300.

The government has offered them a residential facility to study Spanish, learn about Uruguayan culture and integrate to their new home.

Syrian refugee Abu Wa’el Dhiab recently complained in a TV interview that the men have “walked out of a prison to enter another one.”

Dhiab expressed thanks to Uruguay, but said it needs a plan for helping the ex-detainees, who need “their families, a home, a job and some sort of income that allows them to build a future.”

However, a labor union that has been helping the men says that they have turned down job offers.

Mujica recently visited the home where five of the six men are staying and asked them to start working. After his visit, the president said on his radio program that the former detainees are far from the ancestors of Uruguayans, who he said were gritty, hard-working immigrants.

“If these people were humble people of the desert, poor people, they’d surely be stronger and more primitive, but they’re not,” Mujica said. “Through their hands, features and family histories, it seems to me that they’re middle class.”

Some opposition lawmakers have opposed the resettlement plan from the beginning, but one legislator, Senator Ope Pasquet of the Colorado Party, defended the men on Wednesday.

“The Guantanamo six were jailed for more than 10 years in dreadful conditions,’’ he wrote on his Twitter account. “The psychological damage must be terrible. Making them work now? Premature.”

The six men were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002, but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since 2009, but could not be sent home and the US struggled to find countries willing to take them.

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