Freed From Guantánamo, however Nonetheless in Limbo 15 Years Later

TIRANA, Albania — Accused by america army of being a terrorist in league with the Taliban, a religious Muslim man from western China spent 4 years imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay earlier than being cleared after which dumped in Albania 15 years ago.

Nonetheless stranded in a rustic he didn’t know existed till he was despatched there, the person, Abu Bakker Qassim, 51, has a phrase of warning for the a whole lot of Afghans who’ve fled their nation over the previous month and followed his path to one of Europe’s poorest but most welcoming nations as they await admission to america.

“The Individuals,” he mentioned, recalling how he and 4 different wrongly imprisoned Uyghurs had been flown to Albania from Guantánamo, Cuba, and warranted they might not be staying lengthy, “rapidly lose curiosity — they only threw us away.”

Mr. Qassim has been granted “humanitarian safety” in Albania, the one nation that was keen to take him in out of scores requested by the State Division, regardless of protests from China. He will get a month-to-month stipend of practically $400, however he has not managed to get a visa or a passport, which makes journey wherever tough. The one nation that actually desires him is China, which considers him a terrorist due to his advocacy of independence for his house area of Xinjiang, which he calls Turkestan.

China would definitely arrest him if he ever returned.

I first met Mr. Qassim days after his arrival in 2006 in Tirana, the Albanian capital. On the time, he was despondent. China was demanding that Albania hand him over, describing him and his fellow Uyghurs from Guantánamo as a part of a “terrorist pressure” with “shut relations to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

He was additionally very confused, not likely certain the place the Individuals had despatched him. He and his fellow Uyghurs have been confined to a transformed military barracks that had rusty barbed wire on the home windows and felt like one other jail. Talking solely Uyghur and Chinese language, he couldn’t talk with anybody in his host nation and didn’t know what the Albanians meant to do with him.

His spirits have now lifted significantly. Albania, a former Communist dictatorship and shut good friend of China’s within the period of Mao Zedong however now a member of NATO and a steadfast American ally, declined Beijing’s requests that he be despatched to China. As an alternative, it gave him cash to hire an house, in addition to a month-to-month allowance for meals. He discovered work in a pizza parlor, made associates at a Tirana mosque and began a brand new household.

He now speaks fluent Albanian and has forgotten a lot of the Chinese language that he was obliged to be taught rising up in Xinjiang.

The tiny Balkan nation that took him in, which just lately dedicated to admitting as much as 4,000 Afghans in want of shelter, “has a convention of internet hosting individuals in want,” the nation’s overseas minister, Olta Xhacka, mentioned in an interview.

“We take satisfaction in being hospitable,” she added.

Almost 700 Afghans have already arrived and have been put up in seashore resorts alongside the Adriatic coast.

Mr. Qassim, nonetheless, is dismayed that so many Afghans are fleeing, an exodus pushed by worry of the Taliban and hope of attending to america.

In contrast to the Uyghurs, dominated by an more and more oppressive Chinese language authorities and incarcerated in giant numbers in a vast network of Xinjiang internment camps, the Afghans, mentioned Mr. Qassim, have their very own nation and, irrespective of how oppressive the Taliban could also be, could be higher off staying at house.

“I don’t perceive why they left. It could be higher to remain in their very own nation,” he mentioned. “I do know what it’s to be jailed, however even when they go to jail, they are going to be close to their households.”

Mr. Qassim has not seen his household in Xinjiang for greater than 20 years, since he set off with a good friend from western China on an ill-fated effort to journey overland to Turkey, the place the language is just like the Turkic tongue spoken by Uyghurs and the place he had hoped to search out work. He traveled on a Chinese language passport legitimate for less than two years.

Stranded in Afghanistan with out cash or papers on the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults, he was grabbed by bounty-hunting tribesman on the Pakistan-Afghan border and handed over to the Individuals, who have been providing money for suspected terrorists. They thought-about him an “enemy combatant” and despatched him to the jail at Guantánamo Bay to hitch different Muslims swept up in President George W. Bush’s “world warfare on terror.”

After being exonerated in 2006 by a army tribunal, Mr. Qassim was led in shackles to a army transport aircraft and flown in a single day to Tirana from Cuba. Repeated efforts since then to get visas for america and Canada have failed, and all however one of many Guantánamo 5 are nonetheless in Albania. The one who acquired out moved to Sweden, the place he works as a taxi driver.

Mr. Qassim mentioned he laughed when he heard final month that United States officers have been negotiating with the Taliban over entry to Kabul’s worldwide airport after the American-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15 and ceded management of the Afghan capital to the insurgents.

Throughout his detention in Guantánamo, he mentioned, “they stored telling me that the Taliban have been terrorists and accused me of collaborating with the Taliban, however now they’re collaborating with the Taliban.”

The world, he famous, “has actually modified loads in 20 years.”

One change that brings him consolation, he mentioned, is the evolution of attitudes towards China. When he was first despatched to Guantánamo, the Bush administration had embraced China’s view that Uyghurs demanding independence and even merely higher autonomy have been harmful extremists. In 2002, Washington named a largely phantom Uyghur group referred to as the East Turkestan Islamic Motion as an affiliate of Al Qaeda, a transfer that gave cowl to Chinese language claims that Uyghurs who protested their therapy have been terrorists.

Final 12 months, the Trump administration removed the Uyghur group from america’ terrorism record, saying there was no proof it existed.

“We spoke concerning the China danger greater than 20 years in the past and always advised everybody: ‘Watch out of China,’” Mr. Qassim mentioned. “However solely now are they beginning to perceive what sort of nation the Chinese language Communist Occasion has created.”

He final communicated together with his spouse and three youngsters in China in 2016, when the Communist Occasion appointed a brand new hard-line boss in Xinjiang and started a program of mass detentions that has since put as many as one million or extra Uyghurs and different Muslims in “re-education” camps. He worries that his relations, tainted by his standing in China as a harmful extremist, have develop into victims of what the State Division this 12 months described as “genocide” in Xinjiang.

The final he heard about his 21-year-old daughter in Xinjiang, he mentioned, was that she had not been arrested and was working in a store, however she was being pressured to marry a Han Chinese language in order to show her loyalty to Beijing and keep away from detention.

Reduce off from his household in Xinjiang, Mr. Qassim took a second spouse in Albania, a Uyghur girl with whom he has had three youngsters. He mentioned he advised his first spouse by phone that he had remarried, and “she was a bit indignant,” however she understood that due to Chinese language insurance policies in Xinjiang, their probabilities of ever getting again collectively have been slim.

He mentioned that he was deeply grateful to Albania for not sending him again to China and for giving him cash, however that he was annoyed that it had stalled on granting him formal asylum or Albanian journey paperwork regardless of greater than 15 years of residency.

The Albanian Inside Ministry mentioned Mr. Qassim had not utilized for a passport. Mr. Qassim mentioned his lawyer had requested the ministry and been advised that the Uyghur’s “humanitarian safety” standing precluded the potential for a passport.

Whereas indignant at america over his years at Guantánamo and his 15 years since in limbo in Albania, he nonetheless views America because the Uyghurs’ solely actual hope.

“If Turkestan ever will get independence, it will likely be due to America,” Mr. Qassim mentioned. “Each nation makes errors, however I can’t cease believing in america simply because they did injustice to 5 Uyghurs despatched to Albania.”

Fatjona Mejdini contributed reporting.

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