Once Detained at Guantanamo, 4 Uighurs Find Home in Bermuda
Monday, June 15, 2009
HAMILTON, Bermuda, June 14 -- The four men in short-sleeve shirts looked like ordinary tourists, enjoying a Sunday lunch and butter pecan ice cream afterward as they observed the sparkling waters surrounding this Atlantic resort island.
But they are Uighurs, Muslims from the vast stretches of western China, and they have just arrived from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The men once were terrorism suspects, but even after authorities determined the men were no threat to the United States, they were kept at the prison in Cuba for years because no nation would take them. A few days ago, Bermuda agreed to let them in as refugees.
"When we didn't have any country to accept us, when everybody was afraid of us. . . . Bermuda had the courage and was brave enough to accept us," said Abdulla Abdulgadir, who at 30 is the youngest of the four men who relished their first weekend of freedom in seven years.
Abdulgadir eagerly embraced his new island home. "We are not moving anywhere," he said.
He and his companions have traded drab prison jumpsuits for comfortable cotton pants and knit shirts, and razor-wire-encircled jail compounds for beach cottages. They hope to quickly find jobs in Bermuda -- one of the world's wealthiest places because of its financial and insurance sector -- and eventually start families.
The four Uighurs also have immediate priorities, such as learning to drive, scuba-dive and bowl, said Glenn Brangman, a former military official who is helping reintroduce them to the world outside prison.
"I told them one step at a time," Brangman said. "They're beginning to live all over again."