Uruguay’s government said Wednesday it is searching for another country to take a former Guantánamo detainee who is threatening to die on a hunger strike if he is not allowed to reunite with his family abroad.
Syrian native Abu Wa’el Dhiab has repeatedly said he is unhappy in Uruguay and is demanding to be allowed to leave the South American country, which took him in with five other former Guantánamo prisoners in 2014.
“For several days now, the Uruguayan government has been making arrangements with different states, especially in the Arab world, so they can take in Dhiab and he can fulfill his wish and reunite with his family,” Dhiab’s government liaison, Christian Mirza, told local radio Sarandi.
“The government is trying its best, but it’s not that simple,” he said.
There is nothing impeding Dhiab’s family from coming to Uruguay, but the former prisoner is against it, Mirza said.
“We’d have to ask ourselves why his family could not come to Uruguay when the families of other Guantánamo refugees came here when they wished,” Mizra said.
Dhiab was briefly hospitalized Monday night in Montevideo after he became weak from the hunger strike.
A few hours after he was released Tuesday, friends posted a YouTube video showing Dhiab lying on a mattress in his apartment. He speaks softly in Arabic pressing his demand to be sent to another country to be with his family.
“My decision to go on a hunger strike is my final decision. Either in Argentina or Afghanistan (or wherever) with my family or I die,” he says. “My daughter will marry in 10 days. I would have liked to be with you.”
He says he feels like a prisoner in Uruguay. “They tell me I’m free, but that is not true,” he says.
Dhiab insists he has been on a 25-day hunger strike and has not consumed any liquids for five days. But some of his friends and Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa have said he ate some food last week on a flight when he was deported from Venezuela back to Uruguay.
Dhiab was at the center of a legal battle at Guantánamo for years because of repeated hunger strikes to protest his indefinite detainment. He gets around on crutches and suffers from health problems related to the hunger strikes and forced feedings while in U.S. custody.
He had turned up in Venezuela in late July after going missing from Uruguay for several weeks, which had alarmed officials in neighboring countries and led U.S. lawmakers to scold the Obama administration for losing track of him.
The Uruguayan Foreign Ministry has said he tried to get help in Venezuela to reunite with his family in Turkey or another country.
Dhiab and the five other former Guantánamo prisoners came to Uruguay for resettlement at the invitation of then President Jose Mujica. They had been detained in 2002 for suspected ties to al-Qaida and were held without charge before U.S. officials cleared them for release.
Uruguay has provided social services and financial support, but the men have struggled to adjust and say they don’t get enough help. Dhiab has been the most vocally critical member of the group.
Associated Press writer Peter Prengaman in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.