Four freed Guantánamo Bay detainees protested in front of the U.S. Embassy on Friday night, saying they were angry about being asked to leave a Uruguayan hotel that had been housing them and demanding Washington help them financially.
Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi said he had been asked to leave the Metro hotel, a budget inn where he and some of the other five former detainees periodically stayed.
The four Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian were housed in a four-bedroom house in Uruguay’s capital after the government took them in after their release in December. But “we are too many to stay in the house,” said Ouerghi, who spent much of the last few months at the hotel.
As a humanitarian gesture, the men were invited to resettle in this poor South American country of 3.3 million people by President Jose Mujica, who has since left office.
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They allegedly had ties to al-Qaida and had spent 12 years in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But they were never charged, and the U.S. released them because officials determined they were no longer a threat.
Ouerghi said the men wanted to speak with the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay. He said the United States should help the men financially, an argument he and a few of the other former detainees have made repeatedly. The embassy was closed, and it was unclear how long the men planned to stay.
Calls and email messages to the embassy went unanswered.
Ouerghi said he appreciated Uruguay’s hospitality but said creating a life here would be impossible without more financial help. The men currently receive $600 (15,000 pesos) a month from the government, which they must use to pay for food, clothes, cellphones and other personal items. The house assigned to them is paid for by a local union overseeing much of their resettlement. The hotel tab was picked up by the government.
“I want to live here and bring my family here,” said Ouerghi, who is from Tunisia. “How am I supposed to pay for gas and water bills and food with only 15,000 pesos?”
While the men’s arrival was greeted by fanfare, the smiles and posing for pictures quickly turned to complaints and controversy. By their own admission, the men have struggled to adjust, and on several occasions have complained about not getting enough help from Uruguay’s government.
In early February, a controversy erupted when people in Uruguay learned that the men had been offered jobs but did not take them.
President Tabare Vazquez, who took office March 1, has showed less enthusiasm for resettlements than his predecessor. Vazquez has said the country will not take any more Guantánamo detainees and he has postponed the planned resettlement of a group of refugees from Syria’s war.
Vazquez has said the U.S. government should help shoulder the burden of providing for the men. Earlier this month, during the Summit of the Americas in Panama, he announced that the U.N. refugee agency would soon provide homes for the men.
When asked about that Friday night, Ouerghi said he was doubtful.
“The government here says one thing and does another,” he said.
Associated Press writer Leonardo Haberkorn reported this story in Montevideo and Peter Prengaman reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.