Churches hope to sponsor Guantanamo detainees

  • February 12, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Churches are lining up to help inmates of the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, come to Canada.

Catholic, Anglican and United churches have all submitted sponsorship applications to bring Guantanamo prisoners to Canada as refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees has been organizing the sponsorships and has called on the federal government to expedite the applications.

But a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the Canadian Press church applications to sponsor these inmates won’t mean the war-on-terror prisoners are bound for Canada. The application process is likely to take “years rather than months,” an Immigration official said.

There are 60 prisoners at Guantanamo who cannot return to their home countries for fear of arrest, torture, persecution or death. The Canadian Council for Refugees is participating in international efforts to resettle them before the new Barack Obama administration in the United States shuts down the controversial prison within the year.

The social action committee of the archdiocese of Montreal has offered to sponsor two Uighurs from China. The Uighur minority of China’s northwest frontier are Muslims. The men the archdiocese of Montreal are hoping to sponsor have asked that their names be withheld for fear of repercussions on their families.

The Uighur men have been held without charge at Guantanamo for seven years.

Algerian national Djamel Ameziane, also held in Guantanamo for the last seven years, would be sponsored by the Anglican diocese of Montreal . Another Chinese Uighur, Anwar Hassan, is being sponsored by a group of United Church congregations in Toronto. Hassan has been in Guantanamo seven years.

Another United Church congregation in Toronto is also offering to sponsor Maassoum Abdah Mouhammad, an ethnic Kurd from Syria. He has been held in Guantanamo for more than six years.

All candidates for refugee status in Canada have to pass security and criminal background checks.

Of 270 inmates who remain at Guantanamo Bay, 60 have been cleared for release but cannot return to their home countries. Since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, 775 men have been brought to Guantanamo. More than 400 have been released without charge. Three have been convicted of various offences.

The day after taking office Obama requested that military commissions suspend their trials of prisoners.

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