Around 30% of former Guantanamo detainees who have been resettled to third countries have not been granted legal status, according to a new analysis shared exclusively with the Guardian, leaving them vulnerable to deportation and limiting their ability to rebuild their lives .
Of the hundreds of men released from Guantanamo since the prison opened 20 years ago, around 150 have been sent to third countries under bilateral agreements negotiated by the United States, as their country of origin was considered dangerous to return.
Publicly, the United States has pledged to transfer them in a humane manner that would ensure their rehabilitation after years of incarceration – and, in many cases, torture – without charge. But many remain in a legal limbo, unable to work or reunite with their families, and have been subjected to years of detention. Others were forcibly returned in dangerous conditions.
The new data was produced by human rights organization Reprieve, which supports former prisoners, and illustrates how the lawlessness that has marked the prison from the start can follow the men for years after their release. The analysis indicates that around 45 men did not receive residency documents during their resettlement.
Ravil Mingazov was held at Guantanamo for over 14 years before being transferred to the United Arab Emirates on the last day of the Obama administration. A Russian Muslim Tatar who had been harassed by authorities because of his religion, he feared returning home, where UN human rights experts warned he was at risk of torture. He was assured that he would live freely in the United Arab Emirates after a short stint in a rehabilitation center. Instead, he was held in solitary confinement and severely abused, according to his family and lawyers.
Her 23-year-old son Yusuf Mingazov spoke to the Guardian from his home in London. “I’m not saying Guantanamo is a good place. It is one of the worst places in the world, one of the worst prisons. But compared to the United Arab Emirates right now, it’s a beautiful place.
Last year, fears of forced repatriation grew after Russian authorities visited Ravil’s mother in Tatarstan to produce travel documents. Monitored phone calls to relatives have stopped. A UN opinion compared Mingazov’s case to incommunicado detention and enforced disappearance, holding both the United States and the United Arab Emirates responsible. A State Department spokesperson said concerns about the matter had been raised with the UAE government.
Martina Burtscher, a social worker at Reprieve, said meeting the needs of former detainees became much more difficult when the Trump administration removed a State Department office dedicated to the Guantánamo shutdown. This office was headed by a special envoy responsible for finding solutions for the remaining men and monitoring the living conditions of the resettled people.
Without the office, there was no way to put pressure on host governments, who “now had a free hand” to do whatever they wanted with the men, Burtscher said. “Who are you calling in the State Department to try to follow up?” You can go to the US Embassy in the host country, which I have tried to do in several places. The answers were largely the same: “It’s not our problem anymore. The men are now at [mercy] of their host countries, and we are sure that their human rights are respected.
For many former inmates, this was not the case. The United Arab Emirates deported 22 other men to their countries of origin, Yemen and Afghanistan. One of the Yemeni men is detained by a militia; one of the Afghans died of “torture, ill-treatment and medical neglect in Guantanamo and the United Arab Emirates”, according to a UN report. In 2018, Senegal forcibly repatriated two men to Libya, where they were held by militias. They have since been released but remain “vulnerable to further detention,” according to Reprieve.
Other ex-prisoners may be nominally free in host countries, but without papers they often cannot work, travel or see their families. Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni sent to Serbia in 2016, complained about continued surveillance and other restrictions, calling life after detention “Guantánamo 2.0”.
The State Department spokesman said the government is raising concerns with host countries when it is not clear that former detainees are being treated humanely.
The Biden administration has not reinstated the role of special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo. Only one person has so far been released under Biden, in his native Morocco, and 13 detainees are eligible for the transfer.
Ambassador Daniel Fried, the special envoy during Obama’s first term, said monitoring the progress of resettled detainees was a central part of the job. “We knew the status of each transfer to a third country. I knew the one who got married and where he worked and who his wife was, ”he said.
“There are Guantanamo problems that will never go away,” Fried continued. “The way you deal with this is to step up and make sure that the people who were there – if you found them eligible for the transfer – are getting the support they need. “