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Freed from Guantánamo, a Uighur clings to asylum dreams in Sweden

China wants Adil Hakimjan, who was granted political asylum, back. Sweden is now considering reversing his asylum.

By Ritt GoldsteinContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / April 24, 2009

Rich Clabaugh/STAFF

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Dalarna, Sweden

In an odyssey spanning 10 years and three continents, a simple merchant's dream of a better life turned to a nightmare following 9/11.

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Adil Hakimjan's journey led from northwest China's Xinjiang Province to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and from there to four years' imprisonment at Guantánamo. After being released from the US terror prison camp in 2006, the Chinese Uighur was sent to Albania and eventually sought asylum in Sweden.

Although he's out of Guantánamo and has been cleared of any wrongdoing by US authorities, his case is far from being settled. Mr. Hakimjan now sits in legal limbo in Sweden, with the Chinese government eager to see him deported and Sweden's Migration Board appealing an earlier decision that granted him asylum protection.

"In three months, it's been three years since we were released from Guantánamo," Hakimjan told the Monitor recently, referring to four other Uighurs released with him from Guantánamo. "Still, I cannot start my own life."

Seventeen other Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) remain imprisoned at Guantánamo, even though they have never been charged and were officially cleared for release in September 2008. Hakimjan's case illustrates the diplomatic and legal minefield facing the Obama administration as it attempts to find new and safe homes for the men without further enraging China, which views them as domestic terrorists.

Seven of the Guantánamo Uighurs could soon be released into the US, according to a source quoted Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

From China to Sweden, by way of Cuba

Hakimjan fled China in 1999 because of what he describes as severe persecution. In a lengthy interview, he detailed the arrests, beatings, and torture that precipitated his journey.

Bishkek, the capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, was his first stop. He said he intended to move his family there, but after a year-and-a-half, the Kyrgyz government began deporting Uighurs back to China. In July, 2001, Hakimjan and a friend then struck out for Turkey, never imagining Guantánamo would soon be their destination.

After leaving Bishkek, the pair went first to Pakistan, then they crossed into Afghanistan to wait in a Uighur village until documents arrived that would allow the men to cross Iran in order to reach Turkey. Their waiting spot was near the Tora Bora cave complex, which was bombed by the US in December 2001.

After the US began military operations in the area, Hakimjan and 17 other Uighurs fled the mountains for Pakistan, where they were captured by bounty hunters who had been promised $5,000 for every captured "terrorist."

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