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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.

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The case hinges upon whether an asylum seeker who is allowed to stay in one "safe country" is eligible to choose another. Typically, the answer is no. But the Migration Court found that due to the nature of Hakimjan's arrival in Albania, his circumstances "cannot be compared with the fact that a refugee ought to seek asylum in the first country of arrival during his/her flight," noting that Hakimjan's stay in Albania was effectively "forced" upon him.

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A sister of Hakimjan's lives in Sweden – a factor the court also cited in its decision – as does a small Uighur community. In Albania, the only other Uighurs are the remaining four from Guantánamo. Hakimjan explained that he feels as if someone "put a hat on my head with the writing 'terrorist,' and it's extremely difficult to take off this hat and throw it away."

The legal affairs director of Sweden's Migration Board, Mikael Ribbenvik, however, emphasized that "there's no possibility" in Swedish law for Hakimjan to receive asylum. He added that the Migration Court has "totally misjudged the case."

European groups urge Sweden to resist China's efforts

With Guantánamo's closing ordered, and the EU presently formulating policy to provide resettlement for some inmates, Hakimjan's case has drawn attention at both the European Parliament and Council of Europe (COE).

Thomas Hammarberg, the COE's Commissioner for Human Rights, says China's action over Hakimjan's case amounts to "interference into a judicial process of another country" that is "inappropriate and unacceptable."

Mr. Hammarberg adds that "such activities by the Chinese authorities underline the importance of granting asylum to Adil Hakimjan."

At the European Parliament, Liberal Democrat Sarah Ludford, of Britain, says that she has recently received assurances regarding Hakimjan from Cecilia Malmström, the Minister for Europe of the Swedish government.

Baroness Ludford says that Malmström offered "robust assurance" that Sweden's refugee process is "based on a human rights evaluation," and is "not vulnerable to political pressure from China or elsewhere."

China has repeatedly asserted that the Uighurs taken into custody by the US were all members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an organization the US State Department listed as a terrorist group in 2002. However, questions exist as to whether ETIM existed as China described it.

According to Dru Gladney, president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College and a widely acknowledged authority on the Uighurs, few experts "had ever heard of" ETIM until after China began trumpeting the group as a threat. He also noted that the majority of information on ETIM "was traced back to Chinese sources," providing for "a real credibility gap."

Professor Gladney says that some believe ETIM to be part of a US-China quid pro quo, where China supported the "war on terror," and "support of the US for the condemnation of ETIM was connected to that support."