19th Aug 2022

EU and US commit to resettle Guantanamo inmates

  • Seven EU states said they would take in Guantanamo inmates (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU and US adopted a joint statement on Monday on the resettling of inmates from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. At the same time, while in Washington, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi promised to take in three detainees, after six other EU states already said they were willing to accept former detainees.

"I thanked the prime minister for his support of our policy in closing Guantanamo," US President Barack Obama said after meeting Silvio Berlusconi in the Oval Office. "This is not just talk, Italy has agreed to accept three specific detainees," he added, without giving any other details on the identity of the inmates.

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Mr Obama and Mr Berlusconi were meeting for talks on next month's Group of Eight summit of industrialised nations in Italy (G8), just hours after the European Union endorsed a deal with Washington on transferring Guantanamo inmates to Europe.

The agreement approved by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg and by the US administration stresses "The primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States."

However, in an attempt to "help the US turn the page" on this controversial chapter of the fight against terrorism which they have so long criticised, EU member states expressed their willingness to accept some of the detainees on a case-by-case basis.

Six European countries besides Italy have said they may be willing to accept former detainees: Belgium, Britain, France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government was willing to accept detainees and would discuss the issue next week with Dan Fried, the US administration's special envoy on the matter.

"We have to wait for them to present the request, the number and the people they think could be received in Spain," he said when arriving at a ministers' meeting.

Any decision to resettle former terrorism suspects held in the Cuban facility resides exclusively with the individual member state, based on the information received from Washington, the text reads. Member states accepting detainees are also requested to exchange relevant information on these persons with the other EU countries, because of the border-free area within the bloc.

The attempt to make the US pay for the resettlements was brushed off by the US, the final wording of the text "noting" that Washington "will consider contributing to the costs incurred by EU member states in relation to receiving ex-detainees on a case-by-case basis."

The Guantanamo camp was established in 2002 to house "war on terror" detainees by then president George W. Bush. Since then, over 540 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo to at least 30 countries. Yet around 230 inmates still remain there, with President Obama having vowed to shut the facility by January 2010.

Many of the inmates have already been cleared for release, but US officials are having difficulty finding countries that will take them in, and meeting resistance from a Congress unwilling to allow their housing on US soil.

Last week, Thomas Hammarberg, the head of EU's human rights watchdog the Council of Europe, urged EU governments to take in ex-Guantanamo detainees. He said there were about fifty inmates from Algeria, China, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan who cannot go home for fear of ill-treatment there.

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau agreed Wednesday to take up to 17 Uighur Guantanamo detainees.

Last Thursday, the United States sent four Uighur men who had been held at the prison camp in Cuba to Bermuda, and also sent two more detainees, a young man with dual Chadian and Saudi nationalities and an Iraqi, back to Chad and Iraq.

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