Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters
Published: Friday, August 22, 2008
GENEVA - Amnesty International called on Switzerland yesterday to grant asylum to three foreign detainees held by U.S. authorities in Guantanamo for more than six years, but free to go if they find a safe haven.
Swiss authorities confirmed that they had received the first applications for asylum in the neutral country from inmates in Guantanamo -- a Libyan, Algerian and a Chinese from the Uighur ethnic minority.
"We have started examining these cases and will handle them according to the same criteria as other asylum requests received from abroad," Jonas Montani of the Swiss Federal Office for Migration told Reuters from the capital Berne.
The Libyan and Chinese have been formally cleared for release from the U.S. naval base in Cuba, while the Algerian has been told he may leave if he finds a country of asylum, according to Denise Graf of Amnesty International.
"Switzerland should accept this small contingent of three people to show the international community that the time has come to find a humanitarian solution. We have to help close down Guantanamo," Graf, refugee co-ordinator for Amnesty International's Swiss section, told Reuters.
"They are at major risk of persecution if they are sent back to their homelands," she said.
All three were arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 or early 2002, according to Ms. Graf. They were among the first detainees in U.S. custody sent to Guantanamo, set up in January 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured after the Sept. 11 attacks.
They were designated as enemy combatants, but formal charges were never laid against them, Ms. Graf said.
Roughly 265 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives are being held at the U.S. naval base. The Pentagon plans to try as many as 80 of them for alleged war crimes.
"We support the request from these three detainees as we consider their detention illegal and that they are really under threat. It is absolutely inhuman to continue to detain them in such conditions," Ms. Graf said.
The United States had approached some 50 governments seeking countries of asylum for Guantanamo detainees, Ms. Graf said.
So far Albania is the only nation to take in ex-Guantanamo detainees that were not its citizens or legal residents, accepting five Chinese Muslims released in 2006.
The U.S. government has said it cannot return the Uighurs to China because they would face persecution.
The Libyan detainee, Abdul Rauf al-Qassim, is a deserter who faces particular danger if sent back to his homeland, according to Ms. Graf. She declined to name the other two.
Two Libyan inmates in Guantanamo sent back to Libya were immediately arrested despite diplomatic assurances given to Washington that they would not be persecuted, she said.