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Kazakhstan accepts former Guantanamo prisoners on humanitarian grounds

07 january 2015, 15:33
0
Prisoners in Guantanamo. ©AFP
Prisoners in Guantanamo. ©AFP
©Reuters
©Reuters

The whereabouts of former Guantanamo prisoners who arrived in Kazakhstan on the eve of the New Years are kept secret, Tengrinews reports.

The press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan declined to disclose the location of the five former Guantanamo prisoners, citing the 3rd paragraph of Article 4 of the Law On Refugees of 2009, which requires “confidentiality of information on private life of asylum-seekers and refugees.”

The five prisoners of the infamous Guantanamo arrived in Kazakhstan on 31 December 2014. Answering why they chose Kazakhstan to seek asylum, the press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Nurzhan Aitmakhanov said: “It was their personal choice.” He added this was the first time when former Guantanamo prisoners asked Kazakhstani authorities for an asylum.

All these men were captured in Pakistan in the aftermath of September 11 attacks and were accused of links to terror groups. Among them are three nationals of Yemen - Asim Thahit Abdullah al Khalaqi, Muhammed Ali Hussein Khnenah, Sabri Mohammed Ebrahim al Qurashi - and two nationals of Tunisia - Adel Bin Ahmed Bin Ibrahim Hkiml and Abdallah Bin Ali al Lufti.

They came to Kazakhstan after more than 11 years of imprisonment at the Guantanamo Bay prison. All those years they were held in one of the worst prisons in the world without charge. They ended up in legal limbo even after they were cleared to be freed.

The five were released for lack of substantial evidence against them in a wave of releases from Guantanamo after Barack Obama’s push for closure of the internationally condemned detention facility.

U.S. authorities were reluctant to send them to their home countries because of unrest and militant activity in Yemen, and because the Tunisians had feared persecution in their home country in the past. But they didn't explain why Kazakhstan was chosen as their new destination. 

Kazakhstan's acceptance of the five was preceded by extensive negotiations, the officials said. But the decision to accept the prisoners formerly accused on ties with terrorists has stirred public discontent in the Central Asian country.  

“The Republic of Kazakhstan agreed to accept the five individuals based on their personal requests, a petition from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, being guided by international commitments the country undertook, including in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, and on humanitarian grounds,” the press office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan said.

According to the laws of Kazakhstan, the decision on refugee status is taken by the relevant authority within three months from the date of registration of the application. In cases where the decision requires additional checks, the final decision is postponed for a period not exceeding one year.

In Kazakhstan refugee status is assigned for a period of one year. Refusals to grant this status may be based on reasonable grounds to believe that the person participates or participated in terrorist or extremist activities; was part of banned outlawed organizations operating in the country of one’s nationality or in the country from the person arrived to; the person committed crimes against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The five former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been granted the status of individuals seeking asylum in Kazakhstan. The decision on whether to grant the asylum is yet to be made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan.

All the costs, associated with the arrival and subsequent subsistence on the territory of Kazakhstan of the five individuals, are covered by international human rights organizations.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kazakhstan has welcomed Kazakhstan's decision to accept the former Guantanamo Bay prisoners. UNHCR noted that it "supports this important humanitarian gesture of Kazakhstan."

It admitted that the United Nations were not keeping aloft while the United States were trying to convince Kazakhstan to accept the former Gunatanamo prisoners. "UNHCR was in contact with the Government of Kazakhstan to insure the positive decision on the admittance of these persons (to Kazakhstan), based on humanistic considerations," the international organisation told Tengrinews.

Citing the statistics of the government of Kazakhstan UNHCR reported that there were 584 refugees registered as of June 2014 and 41 people received the status of asylum-seekers. At the end of 2013 there were 550 refugees and 44 asylum-seekers.

In the past two years, asylum-seekers mostly arrived to Kazakhstan from countries like Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Palestine, Russia, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Yemen. As for refugees, their countries of origin were Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Palestine, Somalia, Syria and Uzbekistan.

Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina


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