Asylum plea for Guantanamo Uyghurs

The Australian
Justine Ferrari
January 10, 2009

Leaders of the Australian Uyghur community yesterday called on Canberra to grant asylum to their 17 kinsmen detained in Guantanamo Bay, many of whom have families already settled here.

Australian Uyghur Association president Husan Hasan and secretary Ala, who did not wish to reveal his first name, said the Guantanamo detainees were not terrorists but fighting for the freedom of their land, East Turkestan, from Chinese rule.

The Uyghurs are a Muslim Turkic race whose land is now the Xinjiang province in northwest China.

Australia has the third-largest Uyghur community outside China, with almost 2000 refugees settling here over the past 15 years, with the biggest group in Adelaide. The AUA is organising a petition in support of settling the Guantanamo detainees in Australia.

Mr Ala said the Uyghur community was a thriving one with the resources and commitment to provide financial and psychological support to the men.

"We feel we have a moral obligation to help people who are suffering in Guantanamo Bay ... because we all know the suffering of any political limbo, and psychological limbo," he said.

"It's not an easy decision for Australia to make because of its close relationship with China, but I would like to suggest that Australia should not forget the fundamental value of human rights ... If to fight against terrorism is a global issue, then to help the victims of this war is also a global issue, and a very deep moral issue that the whole of humanity should find some solution to."

Transcripts of interviews with the detainees say the men were captured in Pakistan after they fled from the US bombing of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

One detainee, Hozaifa Parhat, said he received weapons training at an Uyghur camp at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, but denied that al-Qa'ida or the Taliban funded it.

"In China, there is torture and too much pressure on the Uyghur people. Recently, they laid off a lot of Uyghur people and filled all the jobs with immigrant Chinese," he says.

"In the future, what will our next generation do? How will they survive? That is why I left my country to try to get something, get back and liberate my people and get our country independence. That is the reason we went to Afghanistan."

Mr Ala said China was using the war on terror as justification to suppress the Uyghurs in China and vilify them abroad.

Amnesty International reports that China successfully lobbied the US to list the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on its list of terrorist organisations, which was later endorsed by the UN.

A campaign co-ordinator at Amnesty International Australia, Sophie Peer, said the US, which has the largest Uyghur community outside China, should be settling the detainees but failing that, the organisation would welcome the Australian Government offering asylum.