Five former prisoners from the notorious US-run Guantanamo prison camp who arrived in Kazakhstan at the end of last year have lodged asylum claims in the Central Asian state, the government says.
The five arrived in Kazakhstan on December 31, the Foreign Ministry said in a January 5 statement, after being freed from Guantanamo owing to “the absence of sufficient grounds to present them with charges of committing a crime.”
The ministry did not name the five, but press reports had previously provided their names and identified them as three men from Yemen and two from Tunisia. They had been in detention for over a decade, Reuters reported, but “were identified as low-risk detainees cleared long ago for transfer.”
The five have been granted the status of asylum seekers pending the hearing of their claims, the Foreign Ministry said. By law, a ruling should be made within three months.
These are the first asylum claims Kazakhstan has received from former Guantanamo prisoners, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nurzhan Aytmakhanov added in remarks quoted by Tengri News on January 5. Coming to Kazakhstan was their “personal choice,” he said.
Aytmakhanov declined to identify the men’s whereabouts, citing their legal right as asylum seekers to confidentiality. Astana has been tight-lipped on the settlement process, and it is not clear whether the five men who have spent over a decade in a US prison camp in Cuba will receive any assistance in adapting to life in Kazakhstan, where they will likely face a language barrier as well as a cultural environment very different to anything they have known before.
Kazakhstan’s agreement to resettle the five (whose expenses are being met by international human rights organizations, according to the government) “followed extensive negotiations,” Reuters quoted an unidentified senior US official as saying. Astana may have been reluctant to accept five Middle Easterners imprisoned by the United States as suspected extremists. Its acceptance was likely motivated by diplomatic considerations.
The administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev has been on an international charm offensive of late, with Astana keen to show itself as a reliable partner for the West. Kazakhstan is a close ally of Russia’s, but has been especially eager to distinguish its foreign policy amid the Kremlin’s international isolation over the Ukraine crisis.
Accepting the five former detainees will shore up Astana’s diplomatic credentials with Washington, which is on a renewed push to resettle prisoners in order to meet a long-standing pledge by US President Barack Obama to close down the Guantanamo camp.