Bermuda: Refugees and Reaction: A Few Thoughts

By: Senator Walton Brown, Bermuda

HAMILTON, Bermuda – The Bermuda Government’s decision to take in Four Chinese nationals of Uyghur ethnicity was a bold humanitarian gesture that I hope all residents will come to embrace. These men, who sat languishing in the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility for eight years, have committed no crime and were meant to be released under the Bush administration.

While we have a series of challenges here, with our own citizens in need of housing support and work opportunities, for example, we have never step away from our moral obligation to provide support to those in need around the world. We have done so with tsunami victims, hurricane victims and with people ravaged by war. We have sent our Bermuda Regiment soldiers, millions of dollars in donations and food and supplies.

This is what members of a global community do and we can expect to receive similar offers of support should we find ourselves in difficulties, natural or otherwise. We undertake such actions in spite of the challenges that exist here because the only logical alternative is an untenable one: that we help no one else until we fix all of our local problems first.

On the specific issues involving these four men, the US Justice Department, which conducted a detailed investigation of the Uyghurs detained at the US base had long ago concluded the following: Uyghurs are a Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China; a total of seventeen Uyghurs had left China, arrived in Afghanistan, where they stayed in a camp with other Uyghurs opposed to the Chinese government; when they left Afghanistan after U.S. bombings began in the area in October 2001 they were captured in Pakistan.

The Justice Department does not believe they traveled to Afghanistan with a view to taking any hostile action against the US.

The Justice Department also pointed out that since 2002 more than 540 detainees have been released without incident and settled in 31 other countries, including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Russia, Spain and Sweden. We are making a small contribution to this global undertaking in tandem with our size and capacity.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Governor Gozny have expressed concern they were not involved in this decision, indeed, they have asserted it should have been their decision in the first place, given the foreign policy and security implications. Government’s response is that they view the matter as an immigration issue, for which responsibility rests with them.

But the British themselves portended such disputes over constitutional responsibilities two years ago when the FCO, in the document “Overseas Territories: Relationship with the UK” observed the following: “More generally we are moving into a world which is becoming ever-more interconnected, in which the distinction between domestic and foreign policy will become less and less clear.” This is certainly one of those cases which is “less clear.” My view is that this humanitarian gesture, this inherently ethical decision by our government, trumps any discomfort or fraying of British sensibilities.

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