Guantánamo

Uruguay extends financial aid to freed Guantánamo captives for a year

Freed Guantánamo captives, from left, Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi from Tunisia, Ali Husain Shaaban from Syria, Ahmed Adnan Ajuri from Syria, and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan stand on a balcony of their temporary home in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2014.
Freed Guantánamo captives, from left, Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi from Tunisia, Ali Husain Shaaban from Syria, Ahmed Adnan Ajuri from Syria, and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan stand on a balcony of their temporary home in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2014. AP file

Uruguay’s government has decided to extend for another year the economic aid that it has given six former Guantánamo Bay prisoners who resettled in the country in 2014, an official said Thursday.

The government liaison to the freed prisoners, Christian Mirza, said they will receive a minimum salary of about $450 until January 2019. Mirza said the government will also pay their rent and might pay so they can learn a trade, seek psychological therapy and study Spanish. The aid’s extension has been approved by the government and must now be signed by Uruguay’s foreign minister.

The financial support was expected to end in January 2018. But the former inmates have struggled to adjust in Uruguay.

Mirza said that two of them work at a low-paying parking garage. Another teaches English and Arabic, and a fourth is selling Middle Eastern food. The others are unemployed.

“One of them took a course to learn how to drive a backhoe and passed it, but he didn’t get a job,” Mirza told the Associated Press. “The stigma of Guantánamo is a very difficult wall to lift.”

The four Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian were released from Guantánamo in December 2014 and resettled in Montevideo. The U.S. military held the men as suspected al-Qaida militants for more than 12 years, and never charged them with a crime. They were released after a board concluded they would no longer represent a threat, and then-President Jose Mujica invited them to resettle in Uruguay as a humanitarian gesture.

Despite the social and financial aid, the men have complained that the government needs to help them more and have staged protests. The most vocal of the men has been Abu Wa’el Dhiab. For years, the Syrian man was at the center of a legal battle at Guantánamo because of repeated hunger strikes launched to protest his indefinite detention.

Dhiab went on a hunger strike in 2016 to demand he be allowed to leave Uruguay and join his family in Turkey or in another country. He also tried to travel to Russia in 2017 in one of at least four attempts to leave the South American country.

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