Plea To Take In Chinese Muslims

Plea to take in Chinese Muslims

Sarah Smiles
The Age (Melbourne)
June 13, 2007

AUSTRALIA has been asked to grant asylum to a group of Chinese Muslim men who have been released from detention at Guantanamo Bay, amid fears that they would be executed if they are sent back to China.

Australia's Chinese Muslim community is urging the Howard Government to settle the men following a request from the US, which no longer considers them a terrorist threat.

According to a report in The New York Times, Australia is one of nearly 100 countries that have been asked by the US to settle the men with little success.

Chinese officials have pressured many countries to refuse to settle them and want them returned to China, the paper reports.

Only Albania, a staunch ally of the US, has agreed to accept five of the men, who are now languishing in a squalid refugee camp in the former communist country.

International human rights groups say China's communist Government has led a heavy-handed campaign of religious repression against the Uighur ethnic Muslim minority in western China.

The Uighur men were captured by American forces after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The men had reportedly been living in a camp there for Uighur separatists with loose links to the Taliban.

Twenty-two of the men were sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, yet “American intelligence personnel at Guantanamo soon began to doubt that most of the Uighurs represented a real terrorist threat”, the paper reports. Fifteen of the men have since been cleared for release.

American officials fear the men could be targeted if they are returned to China, which considers them terrorists.

The New York Times quoted a US official who said Chinese authorities had pressured many countries not to accept the men.

“The Chinese keep coming in behind us and scaring different countries with whom they have financial or trade relationships,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said she was not aware the US had approached Australia on the issue, but was checking with immigration officials in Washington.

“The United States has made extensive and high-level efforts over a period of four years to try to resettle the Uighurs in countries around the world,” The New York Times quoted US State Department legal adviser John Bellinger as saying.

Ahmet Igamberdi, a spokesman for the Eastern Turkistan Association of Australia, called on the Australian Government to accept some of the men.

“If they returned back to China, they will be executed (by) the Chinese Government,” he said.

“The human rights problem in our country is very, very bad.”

Mr Igamberdi said the Uighur community had made unofficial representations to South Australia's Attorney-General Michael Atkinson about the issue.

The Age was unable to contact a spokesman from the Chinese embassy for comment.